Joho the Blog » censorship

August 15, 2014

From Berkman: Zeynep and Ethanz on the Web We Want

This week there were two out-of-the-park posts by Berkman folk: Ethan Zuckerman on advertising as the Net’s original sin, and Zeynep Tufecki on the power of the open Internet as demonstrated by coverage of the riots in Ferguson. Each provides a view on whether the Net is a failed promise. Each is brilliant and brilliantly written.

Zeynep on Ferguson

Zeynep, who has written with wisdom and insight on the role of social media in the Turkish protests (e.g., here and here), looks at how Twitter brought the Ferguson police riots onto the national agenda and how well Twitter “covered” them. But those events didn’t make a dent in Facebook’s presentation of news. Why? she asks.

Twitter is an open platform where anyone can post whatever they want. It therefore reflects our interests — although no medium is a mere reflection. FB, on the other hand, uses algorithms to determine what it thinks our interests are … except that its algorithms are actually tuned to get us to click more so that FB can show us more ads. (Zeynep made that point about an early and errant draft of my CNN.com commentary on the FB mood experiment. Thanks, Zeynep!) She uses this to make an important point about the Net’s value as a medium the agenda of which is not set by commercial interests. She talks about this as “Net Neutrality,” extending it from its usual application to the access providers (Comcast, Verizon and their small handful of buddies) to those providing important platforms such as Facebook.

She concludes (but please read it all!):

How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.

And despite a lot of dismal developments, this fight is far from over, and its enemy is cynicism and dismissal of this reality.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

What happens to #Ferguson affects what happens to Ferguson.

Yup yup yup. This post is required reading for all of the cynics who would impress us with their wake-up-and-smell-the-shitty-coffee pessimism.

Ethan on Ads

Ethan cites a talk by Maciej Ceglowski for the insight that “we’ve ended up with surveillance as the default, if not sole, internet business model.” Says Ethan,

I have come to believe that advertising is the original sin of the web. The fallen state of our Internet is a direct, if unintentional, consequence of choosing advertising as the default model to support online content and services.

Since Internet ads are more effective as a business model than as an actual business, companies are driven ever more frantically to gather customer data in order to hold out the hope of making their ads more effective. And there went out privacy. (This is a very rough paraphrase of Ethan’s argument.)

Ethan pays more than lip service to the benefits — promised and delivered — of the ad-supported Web. But he points to four rather devastating drawbacks, include the distortions caused by algorithmic filtering that Zeynep warns us about. Then he discusses what we can do about it.

I’m not going to try to summarize any further. You need to read this piece. And you will enjoy it. For example, betcha can’t guess who wrote the code for the world’s first pop-up ads. Answer:   Ethan  .

Also recommended: Jeff Jarvis’ response and Mathew Ingram’s response to both. I myself have little hope that advertising can be made significantly better, where “better” means being unreservedly in the interests of “consumers” and sufficiently valuable to the advertisers. I’m of course not confident about this, and maybe tomorrow someone will come up with the solution, but my thinking is based on the assumption that the open Web is always going to be a better way for us to discover what we care about because the native building material of the Web is in fact what we find mutually interesting.

Conclusion:

Read both these articles. They are important contributions to understanding the Web We Want.

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January 29, 2013

[berkman] “LOIC [low-orbit ion cannon] will tear us apart”: The impact of tool desiogn and media portrayals in the success of activist DDOS attacks

Molly Sauter [twitter:oddletters] (from Berkman and the Center for Civic Media at MIT) is giving a lunchtime Berkman talk. She’s going to focus on Operation Payback, the Dec. 2010 action by Anonymous against those financial services that cut off Wikileaks after Wikileaks made available a massive leak of State Dept. cables. Operation Avenge Assange tried to bring down the sites of those services. Molly sees this as an evolution in media activism, expanding on the use of DDOS tactics by groups in the 1990s; [DDOS = distributed denial of service: flooding a site beyond its capacity to respond, and doing so from multiple sites.]

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Molly begins with a simple explanation of DDOS. The flooding can come from a single computer (unlikely), via a volunteer botnet, or botnets that infect other computers; the botnets communicate with a central computer, pounding on the target until it can’t handle the traffic.

Old school activists think of DDOS as a form of censorship, and thus it is not acceptable. For many digitally-enabled activists (e.g., Electronic Disturbance Theater) DDOS is a form of disobedience. For EDT, DDOS is an auxiliary form of activism: “DDOS is something you do when you’re out on the streets so your computer can be at home protesting.” DDOS is sometimes seen as a type of sit-in, although Molly thinks this is inapt. For some, DDOS is a direct form of protest, and in others, it’s an indirect and symbolic action. Anonymous melds these approaches: influence via technology + influence via media + direct action disruption.

Electronic Disturbance Theater [EDT] used Flood Net, a tool that “hurls bits” but that also lets you send a message to show up in the target computer’s error log. Cleverly, if your issue is human rights, the log might read “Human rights is not found on this server.” But, Molly says, these logs are only read by the admin, so it’s really a way for the activist to yell something for the sake of yelling. The EDT restricted targets of Flood Net and set scheduled times. EDT open sourced it in 1999. The language on the Floor Net site is comprehensible only to people who already know about the issues, e.g., Mexican Neo-Liberalism. It is intimidating for those outside of the circle. It is also very tied to a view of activism that ties actions to individuals â?? anonymous individuals, but using Flood Net requires the action of a person.

LOIC — low orbit ion cannon— was developed maybe around 2006, and forked in 2008. By Dec. 2010, versions could run on just about anything — Windows, Mac, on mobiles, within a browser… Molly goes through the differences in the different versions of it. They let you type in a URL, set some options that are set to defaults, and then you press a button. Done! (LOIC is the boss weapon from the game Command & Conquer). The button you press in the abatishchev version is labeled “IMMA CHARGIN MAH LAZER,” a popular meme. It has the same messaging functionality as Flood Net. The default message derives from a 4chan bestiality rape meme that Molly urges us not to google. This version “is focused on the 4chan Anonymous culture set.”

She then compares this to the NewEraCracker version. Very similar. Same “Imma chargin mah lazer” meme, but the rape meme is gone. Instead, it says “u done goofed,” the popular Jessi Slaughter meme. Jessie pissed off Anonymous, so Anonymous sent lots of pizza to her house. Her father posted a defensive video that wasn’t very smart about the Net, which got widely distributed, and which contained the line “you done goofed.” This message is more confrontational than the other version which the recipient would be unlikely to understand at all. This version of LOIC also has a “fucking hive mind mode” that lets you automate the process entirely by plugging it into an IRC server to use volunteer computers [I think].

These tools, especially the second, created a community of activists, especially in hive mind mode. There are many LOIC tutorial videos on YouTube. This reaches out to new people to join, unlike EDT’s use of language that appeals only to those already in the know. Because anyone can use it, it helps Anonymous become a community of trust.

Anonymous has also pushed DDOS as a media manipulation tactic, and used media for recruitment. Molly doesn’t know if it was a conscious decision, but DDOS ended up as a recruitment tactic.

During the four days of Operation Payback, the media coverage was very confused. For example the media weren’t sure that DDOS is illegal. (It is.) Even Gizmodo got wrong how risky DDOS is for the attacker; it wrongly claimed that the target’s log files don’t record the incoming connections during DDOS. Experienced users know to anonymize their packets, but those who came in new and used this easy-to-use tool often did not protect themselves. The Paypal 16 now under indictment were caught because PayPal stored the top 1000 IP addresses. Much of the coverage just quoted Anonymous at length. “Anonymous is a very horizontal org and there’s no press person to talk to,” but, Molly says, there was a “press IRC channel” but the media didn’t know how to use it. Some mainstream articles linked to download sites for LOIC, which may have encouraged people to download it without understanding the legality of using it.

Conclusions: “Operation Payback’s success was due to a confluence of tech, community, and news media factors. Anonymous’ use of DDOS represent an innovation in participant population and tool design. And Anonymous pushes the reframing of DDOS as a tool of media manipulation and biographical impact [how the participants think about themselves], not direct action.”

Q&A

Q: Is the paypal list public?

A: Nope.

Q: Can you bring your research up to date?

A: I’m writing my thesis now. So, no.

Q: How does being identified play into the historical mindset?

A: I got into this topic because I wanted to do my thesis on activism and anonymity. Anonymous challenges the assumption that if you’re anonymous, you’re not serious about your activism. The cultural preference for identified activism comes from the 1960s civil disobedience movement, which in turns comes from Thoreau: you break the law and accept punishment for it. But that privileges those who won’t lose their house and their family if arrested. This puts activism on the shoulders of a particular class. Anonymous disagrees. It says you can engage in civil disobedience without personal consequence.

Q: The Federalist Papers were anonymous because it implicitly was saying that the ideas are important enough not to need names attached. Anonymous not only escapes punishment, it makes it effortless â?? the amount of effort you put in is indistinguishable from that of someone whose computer was infected by a bot.

A: This is the slacktivism argument. Slacktivism challenges the expectations about what activism does. One version says you’re supposed to change something or have a solution. But slacktivism (or clicktivism) is valuable for the biographical impact.

A: Studies have looked into whether eating organic food affects your self image so that you do more, or that you merely congratulate yourself.

A: The ladder of engagement says that the big step is getting on the first rung. My view of slacktivism is that it’s widened that run. Pressing the LOIC button gets people started, and I’m in favor of people starting somewhere, when it is in a considered and useful way.

Q: How about The Jester?

A: He’s an Army veteran who explicitly aligns his morals with pro-US, anti-jihadist, anti-Anonymous DDOS. He claims to be working by himself. I don’t think his actions are ethical because they’re about silencing content. [Molly tells us that she has a presentation on DDOS ethics.]

Q: Why is “fuckng hive mind mode” a community? People are donating bandwidth. But the manual mode, where people actively decide to participate in something, is much more like people being in a community. The participants in FHHM don’t necessarily view themselves as joining in a community, although the federal govt is claiming that they are.

A: I agree. My point with FHHM was that it opens up ways of accessing that community in ways that were not possible before.

Q: LOIC is hosted at github and sourceforge, and tutorials at YouTube. Any attempts to remove?

A: LOIC and tools like it are listed as “stress-testing” tools. And it can be used that way if you aim it at your own server. It’s like a head shop selling a pipe for tobacco. During the four days of the operation, Twitter did try to shut down the Anonymous twitter account.

Q: You seem to be saying that Anonymous is becoming more respectful, shifting out of the “otherized” world of 4chan. Is there quantitative data supporting this?

A: Biella Coleman has done the most research on this. That’s where I’ve gotten my data.

Q: How many people participated?

A: It’s been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

Q: When an org provides a press contact, a journalist can always orient around that, bounce off of it. But Anonymous doesn’t work that way. How does Anonymous’ play affect coverage?

A: The media doesn’t know how to deal with orgs like Anon and Occupy. They just speak with random people, none of who speak for the org (because no one does). The opening of the press IRC channel was great, for those who found it. It let the press engage at length. But Anon is usefully weird, and thus hard for the media.

Q: [me] So, will LOIC tear us apart? Civil disobedients accept consequences in part to raise the bar so that people don’t too easily break the law. LOIC lowers that bar. If Anon were attacking services that you like, would you be as sanguine?

LOIC isn’t much used now because it’s dangerous, and there are new tools. It’s hard to take down a site.

Q: As the tools get better?

A: Permanent arms race.

Q: Arrest of Sabu?

A: It won’t kill Anonymous.

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October 14, 2012

Violate copyright? No Facebook for you!

According to TorrentFreak, a leaked AT&T training doc indicates that starting on Nov. 28, if a customer is flagged 4-5 times for copyright infringement [according to faceless algorithms], AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon will block access to unspecified “popular sites” until the customer completes an””online education tutorial on copyright.”

No, there’s nothing even remotely Soviet about continuous surveillance that judges you via a bureaucracy without appeal, and punishes you by blocking access to information until you come back from re-education camp. Nothing Soviet at all, comrades!

I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that if Net Neutrality means that access providers don’t get to block access to sites, then this grotesquely violates the FCC’s Net Neutrality guidelines.

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June 29, 2012

[aspen] Eric Schmidt on the Net and Democracy

Eric Schmidt is being interviewed by Jeff Goldberg about the Net and Democracy. I’ll do some intermittent, incomplete liveblogging…

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

NOTE: Posted without having even been re-read. Note note (a few hours later): I’ve done some basic cleanup.

After some amusing banter, Jeff asks Eric about how responsible he felt Google was for Arab Spring. Jeff in passing uses the phrase “Internet revolution.”

ES: Arab Spring was enabled by a failure to censure the Internet. Google enabled people to organize themselves. Especially in Libya, five different militias were able to organize their armed revolt by using the Net. It’s unfair to the people who died to call it an “Internet revolution.” But there were fewer people who died, in part because of the incessant media coverage. And we’ve seen that it’s very easy to start what some call an Internet revolution, but very hard to finish it.

JG: These were leaderless revolutions, crowdsourced revolution. But in Egypt the crowd’s leaders were easily pushed aside after Mubarek fell.

ES: True leaders are very hard to find. In Libya, there are 80 militias, armed to the teeth. In most of the countries there were repressed Muslim groups that have emerged as leaders because they organized while repressed. Whoever takes over inherits financial and social problems, and will be thrown out if they fail.

JG: Talk about Google’s tumultuous relationship with China…

ES: There are lots of reasons to think that China works because its citizens like its hierarchical structure. But I think you can’t build a knowledge society without freedom. China wants to be a knowledge society. It’s unclear if China’s current model gets them past a middle income GDP. Google thought that if we gave them free access to info, the Chinese people would revolt. We were wrong, and we moved Google to Hong Kong, on the open side of the Great Firewall. (We had to because that’s the Chinese law.) Now when you enter a forbidden query, we tell the user that it’s likely to be blocked. We are forbidden from announcing what the forbidden terms are because we don’t want employees put in jail.

JG: Could Arab Spring happen in China? Could students organize Tianamen Square now?

ES: They could use the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. But if someone organizes a protest, two people show up, plus 30 media, and 50 police.

JG: Google’s always argued that democratization of info erodes authoritarian control. Do you still believe that?

ES: The biggest thing I’ve learned is how hard it is to learn about the differences among people in and within countries. I continue to believe that this device [mobile phone] will change the world. The way to solve most of the world’s problems is by educating people. Because these devices will become ubiquitous, it’ll be possible to see how far we humans can get. With access to the Net, you can sue for justice. In the worst case you can actually shame people.

JG: And these devices can be used to track people.

ES: Get people to understand they have choices, and they will eventually organize. Mobiles tend to record info just by their nature. The phone company knows where you are right now. You’re not worried about that because a law says the phone company can’t come harass you where you’re sitting. In a culture where there isn’t agreement about basic rights…

JG: Is there evidence that our democracy is better off for having the Internet?

ES: When we built the Net, that wasn’t the problem we were solving. But more speech is better. There’s a lack of deliberative time in our political process. Our leaders will learn that they’ll make better decisions if they take a week to think about things. Things will get bad enough that eventually reason will prevail. We complain about our democracy, but we’re doing quite well. The US is the beacon of innovation, not just in tech, but in energy. “In God we trust … all others have to bring data.” Politicians should just start with some facts.

JG: It’s easier to be crazy and wrong on the Net.

ES: 0.5% of Americans are literally crazy. Two years ago, their moms got them broadband connections. And they have a lot of free time. Google is going to learn how to rank them. Google should enable us to hear all these voices, including the crazy people, and if we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.

JG: I googled “Syria massacre” this morning, and the first story was from Russia Today that spun it…

ES: It’s good that you have a choice. We have to educate ourselves and our children. Not everything written is true, and very powerful forces want to convince you of lies. The Net allows that, and we rank against it, but you have to do your own investigation.

JG: Google is hitting PR problems. Talk about privacy…

ES: There’s no delete button on the Net. When you’re a baby, no one knows anything about you. As you move through life, inevitably more people know more about you. We’re going to have to learn about that. The wifi info gathering by StreetView was an error, a mistake, and we’ve apologized for it.

JG: The future of journalism?

ES: A number of institutions are figuring out workable models. The Atlantic [our host]. Politico. HuffingtonPost. Clever entrepreneurs are figuring out how to make money. The traditional incumbents have been reduced in scale, but there are plenty of new voices. BTW, we just announced a tablet with interactive, dynamic magazines. To really worry about: We grew up with the bargain that newspapers had enough cash flow to fund long term investigative research. That’s a loss to democracy. The problem hasn’t been fully solved. Google has debated how to solve it, but we don’t want to cross the content line because then we’d be accused of bias in our rankings.

JG: Will search engines search for accuracy rather than popularity?

ES: Google’s algorithms are not about popularity. They’re about link structures, and we start from well-known sources. So we’re already there. We just have to get better.

JG: In 5 yrs what will the tech landscape look like?

ES: Moore’s Law says that in 5 yrs there will be more power for less money. We forget how much better our hw is now than even 5 years. And it’s faster than Moore’s Law for disks and fiber optic connections. Google is doing a testbed optical installation. At that bandwidth all media are just bits. We anticipate a lot of specialty devices.

JG: How do you expect an ordinary, competent politician to manage the info flow? Are we inventing tech that is past our ability to process info?

ES: The evidence is that the tech is bringing more human contact. The tech lets us express our humanity. We need a way of sorting politicians better. I’d suggest looking for leaders who work from facts.

JG: Why are you supporting Obama?

ES: I like having a smart president.

JG: Is Romney not smart?

ES: I know him. He’s a good man. I like Obama’s policies better.

Q&A

Q: Our connectivity is 3rd world. Why haven’t we been able to upgrade?

A: The wireless networks are running out of bandwidth. The prediction is they’ll be saturated in 2016. Maybe 2017. That’s understandable: Before, we were just typing online and now we’re watching movies. The White House in a few weeks is releasing a report that says that we can share bandwidth to get almost infinite bandwidth. Rather than allocating a whole chunk that leaves most of it unused, using interference databases we think we can fix this problem. [I think but please correct me: A database of frequency usages so that unused frequencies in particular geographic areas can be used for new signals.]

A: The digital can enhance our physical connections. E.g., a grandmother skyping with a grandchild.

JG: You said you can use the Net to shame govts. But there are plenty of videos of Syria doing horrible things, but it’s done no good.

ES: There are always particularly evil people. Syria is the exception. Most countries, even autocratic ones, are susceptible to public embarrassment.

Q: Saying “phones by their nature collect data” evades responsibility.

ES: I meant that in order to their work, they collect info. What we allow to be done with that info is a legal, cultural issue.

Q: Are we inherently critical thinkers? If not, putting info out there may not lead to good decisions.

ES: There’s evidence that we’re born to react quickly. Our brains can be taught reasoning. But it requires strong family and education.

Q: Should there be a bill of rights to simplify the legalese that express your privacy rules?

ES: It’s a fight between your reasonable point of view, and the lawyers and govt that regulate us. Let me reassure you: If you follow the goal of Google to have you as a customer, the quickest way to lose you is to misuse your information. We are one click away from competitors who are well run and smart. [unless there was money in it, or unless they could get away with it, or...]

Q: Could we get rid of representative democracy?

ES: It’ll become even more important to have democratic processes because it’s all getting more complicated. For direct democracy we’d have to spend all day learning about the issues and couldn’t do our jobs.

JG: David Brooks, could you comment? Eric is an enormous optimist…

ES: …The evidence is on my side!

JG: David, are you as sanguine that our politicians will learn to slow their thinking down, and that Americans have the skills to discern the crap from the true.

David Brooks: It’s not Google’s job to discern what’s true. There are aggregators to do this, including the NYT and TheBrowser. I think there’s been a flight to quality. I’m less sanguine about attention span. I’m less sanguine about confirmation bias, which the Web makes easier.

ES: I generally agree with that. There’s evidence that we tend to believe the first thing we hear, and we judge plus and minus against that. The answer is always for me culture, education.

Q: Will there be a breakthrough in education?

ES: Education changes much more slowly than the world does. Sometimes it seems to me that education is run for the benefit of the teachers. They should do measurable outcomes, A-B testing. There’s evidence that physics can be taught better by setting a problem and then do a collaborative effort, then another problem…

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May 24, 2012

[mesh] Michael Geist on the emergence of the Internet constituency

Michael Geist (@mgeist), a Canadian hero, is giving at talk at Mesh.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

When SOPA was introduced, it seemed likely to pass. Bipartistan love fest. But then the Internet fought back, from the Free Bieber campaign to online petitions. The number one source of info about SOPA was not the NYT or the Washington Post but a TechDirt blog post. (As an aside, someone launched a take down notice of this blog post, so it didn’t even appear in he Google search engine for a month.) The Reddit community was very active. E.g., when GoDaddy was listed as a supporter of SOPA, Reddit started a campaign to transfer domains from there. GoDaddy changed its mind. The big moment was when Wikipedia blacked out its English-language home page. That page was accessed 162M times that day — a striking ability to raise awareness. Other sites blacked out as well. The effect was dramatic: Within a day Congressional support swung.

For months people have been trying to figure out the “SOPA Story.” How did the number one legislative effort from the number one lobby go down in flames?

In Canada we can go back to Sam Bulte. The rise of groups lobbying for rights. The rise of social networks. The use of social media by rights-favoring politicians. So, in a sense, SOPA is nothing new here in Canada.

Blackouts aren’t new either: 1996 “computer decency act” protest. NewZealand’s protest. Italian-language Wikipedia blacked out last year.

So, in some ways the SOPA Story was nothing new. What’s new is what’s happening after SOPA…the enabling coming to people who think they now can truly affect what happens online. E.g., ACTA protests in Europe. Polish MPs donning Guy Fawkes masks. The dominoes have started to fall against ACTA. Now Neelie Kroes has said that ACTA is all but dead.

Likewise, the Research Works Act tried to scale back access to publicly-funded research. The Net fought back, withdrawing support from Elsevier, the key lobbyist for the RWA. Elsevier has withdrawn support for RWA and there is a petition now to go the other way. [SIGN THE PETITION]

In Canada, Proecting Children from Internet Predators Act — a 100-age bill that contains the word “children” only in its title. The Internet fought back. E.g., TellVic. It has been withdrawn, although temporarily.

The Net is spreading word. E.g., Kony 2012 spread around the world. There’s debate about whether it has had any effect, but the UN from people on the ground is that it has made a difference. Likewise, Trayvon Martin’s story was told through social media. Or, now, the Quebec student initiatives that started with just a few people but has grown because of social media.

LEssons: Don’t underestimate the power of social media to bring prople together to have a voice on issues. Second, SOPA happened only 18 months. We’re seeing a dramatic shift. The full consequences have not yet played out.

The third lesson is pessimistic. If this is the year that the Internet fought back, the battle may have been won but the fight continues. E.g., CETA, Trans Pacific Partnership (copyright tyranny), etc. There are reasons for optimism, but we have a long struggle ahead.
ries
Q: How long are we going to have to keep fighting our governments? When do we stop having to argue that social interests take priority over business interests?

A: E.g., this week public pressure worked on an act that had been given to the telcos for prior consultation. E.g., look at how the copyright bill has changed: changes to fair dealing, cap on statutory damages, consumer exceptions, etc. None of that was there originally. More politicians get it. But the content industries are powerful. The Internet is becoming an increasingly powerful voice.

Q: ICANN works on a multistakeholder model and has a limited mandate about setting policy. Some want to relegate that authority to the UN that runs it as a think tank. Which way is better?

A: The ITU has been pushing for governance space for then years. At ICANN some stakeholders count more than others. If the UN does it, repressive countries get the keys to the Net. I don’t see the ITU play happening.

Q: With SOPA there was a lot of groupthink. It lacked subtlety and nuance.

A: We’ve had 30 years of lobbying by rights holders with a total lack of nuance: “It’s theft. It’s piracy. Shut it down.” Not reflective of what’s actually happening. So, yes, some are slackivists just clicking on a Like button. But they are more informed than the general populace on these issues. I did a talk for 8th grade students, and almost all of them had heard of SOPA and Kony, and most knew more about Kony than they knew before March of this year.

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[mesh] Rebecca MacKinnon

Rebecca MacKinnon is on stage at the Mesh conference in Toronto, being interviewed by Ron Hyndman about her excellent, excellent book, Consent of the Networked.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Q: What drew you to this? What in your experience of the Internet drew you to this?

A: What drew me to it was my work overseas as a journalist. I was in China for CNN when the Net showed up in China. And we saw how it challenged China’s government. They recognized this from the beginning. They knew that if you want to be globally powerful, you can’t just turn off the Internet, as North Korea did. Over time, when I left CNN and co-founded Global Voices, I was working with bloggers around the world who were facing threats of censorship. Yet there are a lot of voices pushing back.

There were a number of different books I could have written but I kept encountering people who thought the Net is the way it is. But the Net is a variable, not a constant. It’s affected by legislatures, engineers, bureaucrats, a whole range of different actors. Depending on what people do, it can evolve in different directions, some more compatible with democracy and civil liberties than others. Just as if you want Toronto to be governed in a way that protects your rights, those who are most active in shaping it, so you need to be involved in the politics. We need to act more as citizens of the Internet rather than as passive users.

Q: In the early days, the Web was a primitive place. What did you see the gov’t of China doing then, and how was it affecting you as a journalist?

From the getgo it put together the Great Wall of China, a system of filters to block sites it doesn’t want citizens to see.

Q: Did you think it would work?

Journalists learned how to use proxies, got VPNs, etc. The govt was also imposing restrictions on businesses in China, requiring them to police content and comply with surveillance requirements. They held companies liable for what their users do. Now the govt has outsourced a lot of the surveillance to companies. The Great Firewall blocks what’s on servers outside of China by people the Chinese govt can’t arrest. Within the country, the govt can put people in jail. The social media companies within are responsible for monitoring.

[I was called away for ten minutes]

A whistleblower let it be known that AT&T was siphoning off all the traffic and sending it to the NSA. The tech was created by Norris [sp?], now owned by Boeing, licensed via Egypt to Libya and other places. Arrangements and norms liberal democracies have slid into without public debate to deal with crime etc. have been accepted around the world. Take the same technology and practice and stick them in repressive countries and you get human rights abuses.

Q: In the same way military contractors have built private armies, the surveillance world has been outsourced without any transparency. The telecoms in the US negotiated immunity for themselves after the fact.

Yes. FISA. So you can’t sue them for violating the law. Groups have pushed against this. But there’s so much pressure not to be “soft on crime.” Before the Net, we had models for holding power accountable. In the digital world, with cross-border networks, we don’t have a good way of holding power accountable. We need communication companies to be thinking about Shared Value. It won’t be easy or quick.

Q: Democracy has never advanced by people asking politely, as someone said.

With SOPA we’ve seen people being less polite. And the European protests against ACTA. The movement is growing fast.

Q: What do we need to think about when Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, occupy such an enormous part of our online attention?

Lots. How do the rules of terms and service shape our identity on line, and what is known about us. And the decisions about what you can see online. E.g., Apple’s rules for the App Store have come under scrutiny, as when Mark Fiori’s political cartoon was banned for being offensive. What political cartoon isn’t offensive? Or a woman did a documentary on prostitution in Rhode Island, the kind of subject that you hope independent filmmakers will cover. Her app was rejected. No explanation. Meanwhile the App Store allows the HBO app that shows programs about prostitution. There’s a real concern that the Apple Store is skewed against independent artists, and favors the big brands when they have relationships with.

Facebook has this “real name” requirement. You can’t use a pseudonym. In a lot of countries, there are people being arrested for what they post on FB. FB’s refusal to allow pseudonyms and their problematic privacy standards have raised a lot of issues for people who are vulnerable. A lot of US politicians are dependent on FB. You don’t have to ba Syrian dissident. You can be the victim of spousal abuse or someone who doesn’t want your boss to know that you’re interested in gay marriage, FB is not a good place to be.

[Audience now asks questions]

Q: How should a company like NetSweeper think about its business. Should it be asking countries what it’s going to use it for before selling it to them?

You’re right that these are really hard questions. NetSweeper was intended for families to protect their kids. But then they get used at a national level by govts to block content. NetSense has a similar product and just joined the GNI and have committed not to sell their tech to govts that are known human rights abusers. Companies need to do due diligence and draw some lines.

Q: ThePirateBay physically moved servers into the air with balloons, literally in the cloud. Might some companies move the Net away from their country, or even into space, to remove the control?

Someone has a project to create an island in the middle of the ocean and put servers there. Lots of experimentation going on to take servers out of any national jurisdiction. We’ll see how it goes, but I imagine ways will be way to assert jurisdiction over these things. I’m all for trying. But ultimately we have to try to get companies to be more responsible, and impose consequences when they do not respect rights. Political activism is important. We have to re-occupy these other spaces (commercial, govt).

Q: How has Canada done? And do you see the political shift in Canada affecting Internet freedom here?

Let’s leave that for Michael Geist (next speaker).

Al Jazeera played a key role in the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, but toned down its coverage of Bahrain because of its owners.

That’s why you don’t want to trust any one news source.

Q: Will Iran succeed in disconnecting the country from the Internet?

I don’t know if they’re going to disconnect entirely or try to get citizens using domestic sources primarily. China succeeded because they started at the beginning, and thus there are robust Chinese alternatives to Western social media, thanks to Western venture capitalism. For a lot of users, if you cut them off from the outside Net they wouldn’t notice it for a while. It’s different in Iran where there’s much greater dependence on outside Net services.

Q: NY state wants to impose a law that no site registered in the state can accept anonymous comments?

That’d be pretty unfortunate. I can see some services imposing real name requirements and people can choose to use or not use those services. But pseudonomity is important for people who don’t feel participating in public discourse under their real names. That’d be bad for our democracy.

Rob: Go to Rebecca’s book’s Web site where there’s a tab for “getting involved.”

The paperback will have a new chapter…

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January 28, 2012

EFF explains Twitter’s new take-down policy

There’s a good explainer by Eva Galperin of Twitter’s new policy on censoring tweets within countries that demand it, At BoingBoing, Xeni Jardin points to one particularly relevant fact: this applies to countries whwere Twitter is establishing physical offices.

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December 14, 2011

Go dark for SOPA – The SOPA Eclipse

Jimmy Wales has proposed that Wikipedia might black out its English-language pages for a short period to register opposition to the SOPA law that would allow the US government to shut down access to sites that provide access to material that infringes copyright. These shutdowns would occur without the need for any judicial procedure, without notice, and without appeal.

I think Jimmy’s idea is great and that all sites that could be affected by SOPA — which is to say any site — ought to join in. Just name the date and time, and many of us would turn out our sites’ lights.

[Minutes later: Through a failure in my command of in-page searching, I missed Cory Doctorow's proposing exactly this on BoingBoing. Go Jimmy! Go Cory!]

(Here’s Rebecca MacKinnon’s op-ed on SOPA and its Senate version, which together would constitute a Great Firewall of America, as she says. [A couple of hours later: Rebecca and Ivan Sigal just posted a terrific op-ed on the topic at CNN.com)

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November 18, 2011

[avignon] President Sarkozy

They move us into the grand hall — vaulted ceilings — for a talk by Pres. Nikolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has not exactly been a friend of the Internet. The last time I heard him talk was at LeWeb when he was a candidate. Among the three candidates who spoke there, Sarkozy’s talk was clearly the most hostile to the Internet, viewing it primarily as a site of gossip and slander.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing A SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

President Sarkozy: I was going to give a prepared speech but instead will speak off the cuff. Never before have cultural protagonists — politicians, heads of gov’t — had to make so many efforts to come up with imaginative, new responses to the challenges that humans have never had to face before. I know my presence here surprised some observers. Why talk about culture in such a crisis? Because culture is the bedrock, and the bedrock of our response. The French response to the crisis is to invest massively in culture and anything having to do with culture. That is the French way of doing things. France believes that cultural goods are essential goods. That is the basis of the choices we have made. To live, man needs to feed himself, be healthy, and needs culture. France is the only developed country that has not cut into its cultural budgets — and around in Europe cultural budgets are being cut 20, 30, 50% — but we have increased those budgets.

I’m an optimist. The world has never needed cultural protagonists the way we do now. You give life sense, you build links, you create collective sense. The offshoot of globalization is that citizens need a sense of belonging to their country. What better way than through the adhesion to one’s culture.

Why have we had to show such boldness? Because all cultural protagonists are facing a crisis of distribution. This is a matter of extreme seriousness, if we consider — as I consider — it is no service to culture to say that it is free for all. The disappearance of traditional distribution methods threatens traditional culture itself. You used to go to a record store or a DVD store. That is shattered. So, we have to reengineer a viable economic model from A to Z. This is not simply a matter of imaging. You have to be courageous. I will be blunt. I have always believed that there would be no form of creation if there were no longer to be respect for upholding and respect for copyright and author’s rights. This is of the essence and shapes all the rest.

Bon Marche invented the very concept of author’s rights. A musician has ownership over the music he writes. An author has ownership over the book he publishes. To deny the ownership of artists on their work amounts to negating all forms of creation. What was the status of creators before they had ownership? They were simply court jesters. Those were the lucky ones. Your predecessors long ago might find a benefactor who fell in love with a particular musician’s works and would protect him. What enabled artists to break out of that yoke? What give musicians and writers independence and freedom? What enabled them to recovery their ownership. Copyright. The idea that you could live on the benefits of what you created. There is no independence when you rely exclusively on the genersoity of benefactors.

I am determined not to accept that a tech revolution, even as positive as the Net in other respects, should call into question the ownership rights of a creator over his or her works. To challenge that is to acknowledge anuy economy of culture.

Why is it so complex? I remember the 2005-6 debate where people on my side said you shouldn’t defend these ideas even if they’re right because youth will rise up against you. But one should not renounce one’s beliefs simply because you have to explain things to people before you persuade them. I even had people say I would lose this election if I did not understand this extraordinary revolution that has turned all on its head. We imposed, against much resistance, legislation (HADOPI) against piracy and to protect author’s rights.

I don’t want there to be any ambiguity, so I want to respond to those who ultimately believed what I believe, but decided not to defend a just idea for political reasons.

First, I was indeed elected as president. One can uphold copyright without alienating the majority of people. People are down to earth and can understand if you explain it.

Second, I was told I lost that war. Piracy is part of people’s lives, I was told. When I saw certain sites where daily newspapers were offering their articles free and people weren’t buying the paper any more. How little respect you have for what you do! And how stupid to think that people would pay for what they would get for free. Within a few months of HADOPI, there was a 35% drop in privacy, so the battle wasn’t lost. The internet society has to be guided by rules, just as real society is. The great USA went about it our way. NZ, S Korea likewise. The battle is not lost.

Now we have to tackle the streaming web sites and there is no reason not to do so. What was ambiguous was that p2p pirating was based on an ideology that was based on an initially positive ideology: sharing. The approach wasn’t in and of itself negative. On streaming sites the ideology of sharing has gone out the window; they’re about making money.

They claimed I’m a fanatic. But HADOPI is just a means to an end. Tech is evolving, so the law must too. All we want to do is protect author’s rights. Once the principle of protecting author’s rights is enshrined, why not?

And at the Digital E8, I said lets invite the Net giants to talk with us. I was told that they’d think we’re trying to gag them. When you invite people to talk, you’re not gagging them. So, we sat down and talked, and there was no tension. The idea is not to protect our backyard but to pull these worlds together. The Net revolution is a phenomenally positive development, but we need to talk. And to utter the forbidden word: Taxation. [Google pays no taxes in France.] I cannot accept that these companies pay no taxes in France. You can’t have all your clients in one customer and your team in another customer, and pay taxes ina third country where the taxes are the lowest.

We can support this Net revolution while still talking with Google, Zuckerberg, Microsoft, and talk about author’s rights, taxations, the fact that the latest Marakesh bombing was done by someone who discovered how to make a home-made bomb on the Internet.

In our mind, there isn’t an opposition between the Net world and cultural world. There is a need to get together, speak the same language, lay the foundations for an economy that is viable for Net giants and creators and that doesn’t ruin what the creators create. Culture is an investment that will get us out of this crisis, not a mere expenditure that one can cut back on. Culture is not a luxury. So, I felt it my duty to be here you in this beautiful city, even though there are heavier burdens to shoulder.

Q: I’m a Bollywood actress and writer. I am French. I am also Indian. Completely both. For me culture means the ability to choose among our own passions, and not the ideas that are fashionable. For this we need cultural diversity. So: What is culture?
A: For me, culture is meaning. “Culture is the response one gets when one wonders what one is doing on Earth?” [He's quoting someone I couldn't get.] What gives our life meaning. There is a spiritual and cultural answer to this. Culture is the only area in which there is no notion of progress because culture is the only way man has found to better his condition. When you go to L’escaux Caves you realize it’s the Sistine Chapel of the time — the same sense of transcendence, getting man out of the Kantian chains that bind us. If I take off my head of state cap, I would simply say that culture is an investment. France welcomes 20M tourists a year. What would France be without its culture? If I look at it as a politician, culture is what binds a society. It is the lifeblood. It is why men and women do not know one another share common emotions. Without culture there is no sense of nationhood. If I were to speak as a reader or listener, culture is emotion. A special sort of emotion experience by the composer or writer, but that has universal value. The more personal the feelings expressed, the more unique, the more universal. And, to come around full circle, how can you define culture as what it is not. It is not that extra bit of soul — I hate that expression — for the well-fed society that can afford it. It is not part of the whole. It is the whole. From culture you achieve cohesiveness. You don’t have life and then the spangle of culture. Culture is our identity. Finally, what is culture not? It is the very opposite of sectarianism, of the accepted dogma, of conservativism, of the sheep mentality, of the Pavlovian reflex, of the automatic geographical alignment, of the concern for image at whatever cost.

Q: I am an American anthropologist from India. It is music to my ears to hear that music is a necessity. If there were no investment in culture, my discipline would disappear, which would not be a sorry for the world, but would be for us anthropologists. When you make it clear that culture is a non-negotiable priority even or especially in this time of fiscal crisis, how can make this argument in other countries? Can you draw on your experience with other locations?

A: Need only look at what has happened throughout the world. When the Spanish steel industry was swept around, the city of Bilbao was ruined because its economy rested on it. They made a tremendous wager, betting on architectural quality (Frank Gehry) and culture (Guggenheim Museum). Bilbao generates 220 million euros because of this. Bilbao was saved by cultural investment. When Germany reunited, they decided that the capital would be in Berlin, and built an exceptional capital. Culture is what Berlin has to offer. They’ve had a time attracting companies to Berlin, so real estate prices have stayed low, attracting artists. But 13% of the jobs in Berlin are in the arts and culture. Liverpool’s response in the crisis was to invest massively in cultural terms, and it worked. The cities of the Ruhr are another example. I have had to make painful decisions in Moselle [?] and Metz [spelling!] where 30% of jobs were military. We had to redeploy bases and barracks once my predecessor, Chirac, abolished compulsory military service. So, we abolished military jobs. The implications were colossal. So, we decided to build the Bourbon [?] Center in Metz. It received more than one million visitors. We’re going to dig our heels on this. We’re going to build a Louvre in Lens [?], which has suffered two brutal revolutions: the collapse of the mining industry and the textile crisis. That will project will be a success. We’ll have the museum of the Mediterranean in Marseilles. The Impressionists housed in the ___ museum, the dream I have is of a magnificent museum in Normandy. When the crisis befell us, we came up with a plan to relaunch the economy which included 400B euros worth of additional money for culture. I think there were 83 cathedrals needed to be restored, of hwihc 50 have been restored. And the living arts! Art is always living art — people go on stage and perform. We have not touched one penny of that money. It is our certainty that the best way to respond to the crisis is to invest in culture, just as in aerospace. And if you look at the history of art, creation has never been better than in countries that feel good about themselves. The two phenomena are intimately interconnected. When I look at French cinema, I think Thank heavens our predecessors set up systems that I have done everything to protect. That’s why the French film industry is not in the situation of some of our neighbors that have seen their film industries go down the drain. I may be bold but I have a sense of risk.

Q: [A film maker - Vanya [?]] Barbara Hendricks this morning said that art is as important as air and water, and you said the same. I am a member of Culture and Diversity. Our goal is create cultural opportunities for poor kids. We want to bring them toward art and art schools, but often the importance of art is often quite removed from their lives. They receive art passively through tv, internet and films. But they have little opportunity to be active. What can we do?

A: Look at the extraordinary way the US puts films, music, etc., at service of their economic interests. The brands take root. I’m not saying it’s deliberate, but it works. There’s a steamrolling effect. The generosity of French artists and film directors is equaled elsewhere. We are very happy to screen American films and show American artworks. We do want our American friends to remember that there are other countries. That’s another debate. Reciprocity has to exist in the cultural industry. Beyond exchange. We have to be able to defend this principle. It’s not just the under-privileged. The privileged don’t always appreciate culture. We want to use this extraordinary instrument — the 5,000 colleges in France — to create the new audiences for opera, theater, film, etc. We have started a program where we by the rights to 200 films and make them available to all these colleges. This was not a way of competing with the film industry, but the idea was that if you start watching films in college, you will continue as an adult. We have 264 national theaters, 600 theater troupes, a huge reservoir of plays. But where are the audiences? I’d like to see these plays, once they have toured, to go to the colleges and schools, to shape and form the audiences of tomorrow. Take opera. The cost of a seat is pretty prohibitive, yet the operas are full. I’d like to buy up the rights to these operas and enable these shows to play in schools and colleges. Then there are underprivileged. We’re taking an initiative bringing exhibitions…going out to meet the people. In one case only 19% had ever been in a museum. We’re trying to decentralize, e.g., the Mobile Pompidou exhibition. It’s a simple stage under a tent so people aren’t intimidated. Suddenly they lay their eyes on a Picasso. Can you imagine the effect? That work of art now is not foreign. It’s part of one’s village. Culture is too often sensed as foreign. Whatever you background, when you set your eyes on a work of art, you appreciate it. There is no pre-determinism. Art’s value should be self-evident. You walk down the street and see something beautiful. You don’t need to be told or have it explained. The more you know the more you need to be told. When it’s simply about emotion, nothing needs to be explained to you. [Wow is that false. And it's inconsistent with his Net views. If we respond to art without training, then why hasn't the Net clustered around works of art?]

Q: How about free access to museums?

A: I don’t think that’s the ultimate response because you don’t respect what is free. Everything has a price. Everything has a value. There has to be a bit of an effort for there to be pleasure. But we have for 18-25 and teachers access to museums should be free. The number of visits as a result of this decision: 2.7M youths have gone in. Teachers: 500K. Culture is an amazing, fantastic domain that holds true. You have to be pragmatic, generous, open-minded. I am against access to museums being free because they need to sustain themselves. But for young people and teachers this was a good move. If teachers don’t get into the habit of going to museums, how can their pupils learn.

Q: [a Swedish student] Ever since I was a child, I wanted to make a difference. First as a poet. Then wanting to become the Sect’y General of the UN. My generation was born into the Internet. We invented Facebook, Skype, and Spotify. This has changed how we communicate and interact, across borders. From my point of view, these are great developments. Culture is beautiful and is in all that we do and are. Everything that isn’t developing is degenerating. Values are changing. Why is the defense of IP fundamental in your policy? Isn’t it in opposition to access to culture you’ve stood up for? Isn’t the fight against piracy a hopeless case.

A: I see haven’t persuaded all of you. An artist who wants music to be disseminated free of charge always has that option. I am challenging the pirating of works who do not want that. Who would buy the film or music if you can access it free of charge. There is now a quite cheap offering on the market. It’s right that you should pay less for a record or CD you buy on the Internet. For music we’re going to set up a system comparable to the CNC system we set up for film. I want providers to contribute musical creation just as a certain number of actors contribute to creation in the film industry. Just as there’s a national film center (CNC) there should be a national music one, which should be partially funded by the providers. When there are no writers or music, what is your generation going to get? For music there has to be composers, for films etc. If they don’t have ownership, what will they become of them? The famous will remain in the catalog until their rights fall into the public domain. If your first film or record is not enough to live on, how will you do the second? I asked Zuckerberg — who is remarkable and I admire — if he’d like his work pinched, and he said “Of course not.” Explain to me why a famous author or film maker should have fewer rights than those who are not famous. Go ask Google or Microsoft. Don’t tell me I’m not in favor of the free market! We should fight harder for author’s rights! I think it’s beginning to sink in. I know in Sweden, regulation is a dirty word. We defend our rights, but we’re not refusing the Internet. France is where the Net has developed the fastest and the most. Let us not ask the wrong questions. Illegal streaming sites are doing untold damage and I fully intend to fight them. I do not want to see profit made from the simple theft of other people’s work, just as in the national bond issue, I have earmarked a lot of money so Frederic Mitterand can digitize what are in the French national libraries. Big companies wanted to do it, but we said no. Freedom needs laws. Not too many regulations, but when there is no regulation, it is those who have the most clout and fewest scruples win.

Q: When we try to understand the current revolution, we should look back to the Printing Revolution. Technological rev is not only a change in tools, but influences all levels of culture.: distribution, production, communication, and sharing of culture. We have to rethink all aspects concurrently. We need mediation and explanation. With my students we explore other economic models, or a global license. Shouldn’t we try to reconcile technology and our culture in a period of massive piracy?

A: Yes, it’s a massive revolution, but that shouldn’t lead us to turn our backs on our democratic traditions. We have to find the right balance. On a global license: I am completely against this completely crazy idea. I believe that the identification between the author and his work is of the essence. If we all into some kind of melting pot, we are denying everything that is individual and specific. No one is defending this crazy idea. We are indeed facing challenges. E.g., digital TV that puts on the same screen the traditional, regulated services and the Internet world, which is not regulated and that does not contribute to the film industry the way the traditional services do. The latter will be stealing audience share. So we are going to have to work on how to regulate digital, connected TV era. Or, cloud computing: There again, what happens to your private copy that no longer needs to be uploaded? The battle against illegal downloading will become a matter of the past because in cloud computing there won’t be any need to download anything. But as I said initially, we’re ready to have a third or fourth version of our anti-piracy laws. We believe in protecting author’s rights and them getting individual remuneration for their work. The ways and means of doing this will change, and no one could not say that the Net is not a major step in social connection. But we don’t want our democratic principles thrown out the window. Of course we have to regulate and do it within a framework. It takes 3 mins to download a film. We want to be flexible but stick to our fundamental principles.

Q: [economist] I work on the economics of art and culture. You’ve today demonstrated how clearly you understand the connection. You’ve made the tax system a priority in your own cultural policy. The VAT on some cultural goods has risen in France. Is this consistent with your support of culture.

A: For France, the VAT on the same goods should be the same, whether hardcopy of digital versions. I understand the problems that may arise out of this for the European Commission. But as of Jan 1 2012 we’ll apply reduced VAT for hardcopy goods. Why should it be 7% on the Net and 19.6% for hardcopy. The globalization caused by the Net leads to major distortions in competition, which we cannot accept. So, I’m requesting that VAT on digital and ebooks be the same, at a reduced rate. It will be implement on Jan 1., and I hope that the European Commissioner will not come down to us too hard. This is a personal message to her. I do not understand that there should be a VAT differential to books, films, records, music, because in my mind cultural goods are the same and should have equal standing. In France cultural goods are considered to be essential goods, like food. Now, why we have increased VAT from 5.7 to 7% on cultural goods, is a way of protecting that sector; VAT in France is 19%. I cannot ask the French to tighten their belts and hear one sector complain about a rise from 5.7 to 7%. We have maintained VAT at 2.2% for living arts and press. So let no one say we’re being unfair to culture. We have protected the cultural area ferociously. We have smoothed the burden across the board. I hope the EC lets me work calmly on the record industry. I take this very seriously. Your memories are of smell and music. The systematic destruction of the music industry I cannot simply shrug off. That’s why I’m thinking about reduced VAT for music, as I’ve done for films.

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November 14, 2011

Revolution, politics, and the Internet

On November 11, I had the privilege of being on a panel with Slim Amamou (one of the leaders of the Tunisian revolution) and Rick Falkvinge (the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party). The panel was organized by Luca de Biase at the Italian Internet Governance Forum in Trento.

Here are my notes, taken while up on dais:

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

SLIM AMAMOU

“I will tell you the story,” Slim Amamou begins in Italian, switching to English after about ten minutes. Slim begins his story in 2010. “At the time there was a wave of censorship in Tunisia. Hundreds of bloggers who criticized the government were censored.” All the critical web sites were censored. That was retaliation “because we had waged a campaign against Ben Ali in the 2009 election.” Blogs that had nothing to do with politics were censored. “We waged a campaign that was very successful. There was a group at the time that decided to take to the streets for freedom on the Internet. That was in 2010.”

“Now, we were organizing that protest publicly, in a public way, but we were under a dictatorship. The government tortured opponents and harassed opponents, and what we were doing was perceived as a night of courage. We had to apply for the permit to have this demonstration at the Ministry of the Interior,” which was called the Ministry of Fear “because it’s where people were tortured. We decided to submit the application and filmed the whole process.” That little video went viral on the Internet “and we got very famous.” “So we started making a serial. We removed the fear little bit by little. People were afraid to talk about Internet freedom. The regime was so tough that you could be harassed or beaten just for saying that Internet censorship exists in Tunisia.” “Eventually I got arrested, but we got released, which removed a little bit of fear at the time.”

These protests were aimed at change, but not revolution. Our diagnosis was that “even if we take Ben Ali out, people don’t know who would become president.” “The mainstream media were so corrupt” that people had no idea who could manage the country. It was not possible to reform the mainstream media “because it was the people themselves who were corrupt.” “But the Internet seemed easier.” It was a technical thing, so you could press a single button and remove the entire censorship. “So we were committed to making a change in Tunisia, but we never planned for revolution.” “The revolution happened in a moment we didn’t expect.” The protests were almost solely organized using the Internet, social networks. “We were not a hierarchy. We were loosely coupled and constantly connected, and that’s how it worked.” So when the demonstrations started in Sidi Bouzid, the media didn’t cover what was happening. So a friend filmed what was happening and blogged about it. Another guy had a network over there…We organized a lot of things to get the information out.” A “snowball effect” happened, “and in the end it was the whole Tunisia that rose up.”

“You could interpret it as an effect of fighting for a free Internet. Ironically, at that time the Internet was not free in Tunisia. We had very strong censorship. In the long run we learned to circumvent it.” If you wanted to watch YouTube, you had to know how to circumvent censorship. [cf. Ethan Zuckerman's Cute Cats theory!] “We had to change our circumvention tools constantly, and even build our own technology. We adapted to the system, and eventually, at the peak of the revolution, we overcame censorship. I met with the guy who was responsible for the infrastructure and censorship at the time, and he told me that during the last weeks of the revolution, the list of censored web sites doubled. That meant that the government could not cope with the amount of data that was shared. We also adopted techniques and processes so that if someone finds a video on YouTube or Facbook or whatever, before sharing it, it downloads it in case it gets censored so it can be uploaded again. The whole system was organized in that way.”

“I got arrested again on Jan 6 and got out of jail on Jan 13. and on Jan 17 I was Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.”

In response to a comment later on by Rick Falkvinge, Slim said: “The day I was arrested on Jan 6, in the morning I got SMS’s and news about people getting arrested — a rapper, a blogger — so I knew I’d be arrested, so I tweeted: ‘I’m raising my threat level to orange.’ So I get a tweet back saying ‘Why don’t you activate Google Latitude on your phone so we can track you.’ It saved my life. At the time, you don’t get arrested, you get kidnapped: Nobody knows where you are and don’t get news of you for a long time. So for a humanitarian organization to certify you, you need to be gone for 48 hours to prove you didn’t just sleep over. But the guys who arrested me took my phone like a weapon but kept it open, so my position was known, and the news got out quickly, which is part of why I didn’t get tortured physically. The trick is to give the power to the people. We don;t ask to remove those technologies; we just want the people to use them, not the government.”

After the event, I asked Slim whether he thought the Net functioned as more than an organizational tool during the revolution. Did the use of the Net itself encourage political activism and give an experience of liberty that altered political consciousness? Yes, he replied emphatically. he disaagrees.

RICK FALKVINGE

Rick says that when he speaks to sociologists about the Net, they divide in two. 1. Net is greatest invention since the printing press. 2. The Net is greatest invention since written language. The Net changes society that much, by giving everybody a voice. The Net is the greatest equalizer mankind has ever invented. It puts us all on equal footing.

The Swedish Pirate Party came on line Jan 1, 2006. “What sort of idiot thinks he can change the world by starting a political party.” But he figured they only need a few hundred thousand people to make a difference in Sweden. “If people had known just how dystopic a world we’re heading into, they’d be horrified.” E.g., German placing of computer activity recorders in personal computing devices. They can know all about your life. The only difference from the dystopic projections of the 1950s is that we’re buying the surveillance cameras ourselves. “Sharing is not a problem. People having a voice is not a problem. It’s the next generation of industries, of societies, of citizens.” So I took this web site on line. I went into file sharing mode and just typed two lines: Hey look, the Pirate PArty is online. I thought it’d grow gradually I got 3 million hits in the first two days. After three days there were sister parties in four countries. Now in 50 countries. There was a huge success in Berlin; the German Pirate Party is polling at 8-10%. The Italian Pirate Party is holding a meeting in Trento tomorrow.”

“We’re at a crossroads. The price of storing info has gone to zero. The Stassi were using typewriters and carbon paper. Imagine they had today’s tools…The potential for abuse is enormous.”

“At our core, we’re a civil liberties organization. We’re demanding that our children have the same civil liberties that our parents had. We’re demanding that when everyone has a voice, they get to use that voice without being forced to conform to the gov’t. Diversity is enormously positive…We have an example of this with Anonymous in which people have de-named themselves to let the best ideas work. It’s a meritocracy.”

We don’t have an office. People can organize at almost no cost. New tools give us the ability to by-pass governments, to make sure that we a utopic future.

ANDREA CAIROLA

[Because of some difficulties with the translation, and because I was thinking about how to reformulate my own remarks, I have done a terrible job capturing Andrea's comments. Sorry! ]

Just a few years ago, Arab countries were classified as enemies of the Internet. E.g., Tunisia didn’t give a visa to representatives of Internet freedom. But despite the censorship, the Internet became widespread. Even as the Internet was being subjected to more controls, the ballot movement and the Italian five star movement (started by a blogger) began. We are the country where a national newspaper was financed thanks to an online subscriptions. There are tv programs that are financed totally by the people. In this schizophrenic context, some antibodies were developed that now belong to our DNA as citizens and as readers.

Civil rights cannot be prioritized. They are interconnected. We need to defend these continuously. We are at the beginning of a great revolution. We are lagging behind other European countries, and society is divided into the digital and non-digital classes, but. We are at the beginning of a new change in which we can perhaps use what we’ve learned as citizens.

Q&A

Q: I read when someone was describing freenet: If society generally has a positive attitude, then joining people will bring about something even beter. But if humanity is negative, then nothing better will emerge. So my idea is that that could be a way of understanding the Net, hoping it can raise the best of feelings.

Q: Slim, you told us how you used technology during the revolution. How will you use the technology to build the new Tunisia? Same tools?

A: [slim] I’m very disappointed because the Islamists won the election, but they were fair elections and the majority is probably very happy that the won. But we can probably change the mind of the Islamists because we can make opinions on the Internet. If you want to really use the Net for democracy, you have to have direct democracy: people voting on the issues themselves. But in a representative democracy, the Net is not usable like the media. It’s of course very important as a tool for databases and campaigning, but not for making people choose one candidate over another. It can be used to build a community of volunteers. It is powerful for opinion-making.

A: [rick] There was a scientific report from Sweden finding a generational gap in how we use the Web. Above 35-40, if you have a problem, you identify one or two people who can help you, and you contact only them and expect a response. This is how we’ve cooperated as social creatures since we emerged as species. People below this age work entirely differently. When they identify a problem, they broadcast it to their entire circle of friends and friends of friends They don’t know who will respond, but they know they will be helped. The Net has changed how we cooperated a species. It has flipped a turbo switch we didn’t know we had. There’s a famous quote in Sweden: When I am cooperating on the Net, I am literally not aware where my own thoughts end and others’ start. The single genius has ceased to exist. I think that’s a phenomenon worth defending.

A: [slim] This is known as the hive, the collective mind. On the last day of the revolution, people were screaming “Ben Ali get out!” [in French]. Journalists asked me who created this buzz word. I said no one or everyone. Overnight, all the FB profiles changed their photos to “Ben Ali get out!”

A: [slim] The Internet is closest thing to connecting our brains together.

A: [me] I understand why we talk about the hive mind, and it captures something true about the Net. But in a hive, all bees think the same thing. The real power of the Net comes when those connected minds are thinking differently, and are in disagreement. Also, for me one of the most interesting things is not the direct connection of minds, but the connection of minds through rhetorical forms, new ways of talking to one another and thinking together.

A: [slim] My blog is about the relationship between society and the technology, and how to build society out of technology. I wrote a blog post called Y”et another article about why google should buy twitter.” Google and Twitter are very different because in Gogle you have to ask for the info. On Twitter you say “I’m doing that”; it’s very close to having your thoughts being realized. If you’re in a bus station saying you’re waiting for a bus, you’ll probably get a tweet from a taxi driver. This is like having your ideas realized. You say your state and you get options. Also: Social networks are very basic infrastructure for humanity, so we have to have better technology, tech that is not bent to private companies and are not localized on a server; it should be distributed, because it’s really important infrastructure.

A: [luca] For IGF that’s very important.

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