Hamish Campbell
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Date: 22/04/14
Richard Hering
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Date: 08/04/14
Matthew Paul Foster
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Date: 27/12/13
Patrick Chalmers
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Date: 10/12/13
John Sinha
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Date: 22/10/13

The fight for the open web: one battle, many frontlines

 

Saturday morning, Westminster University was heaving with the number of people who turned out for this year's Open Rights Group Conference (aka #ORGcon). Drawn to see the fantastic line up of speakers - which read as a who's who of Internet geeks & digital rights gurus - it was also clear there was something extra about ORGcon 2012: a rally-cry in the air.

Cory Doctorow, activist, journalist and co-editor of tech blog Boing Boing, opened the conference by explicitly re-drawing the battle lines away from "the first-level copyright wars" to "the coming war on General Purpose Computing". His point was that information freedom in the digital arena is fast broadening out from being a dispute about copyright regulation to a war whose stakes are no less than computer technology itself.

The threat posed stems from the naive and damaging attempts by regulators to control more and more about how digital technology operates. Paraphrasing Cory, the dangerous attitude of manufacturers and regulators - usually backed by powerul lobby groups - is to seek a general purpose computer "appliance" that does everything "except what scares them", and an internet that shares information from any point to any point "except information they're afraid of". The consequences will be far-reaching for networked communications unless, as citizens, we fight back.

It was clear that ORGcon was still feeling the reverberations of the post SOPA/Pipa victory as much as it was gearing its participants up for the next big struggle over the Anti-Counterfeiting and Trade Agreement (ACTA), dubbed by Cory as "real legislative toxic waste". The day was capped off by Internet expert Laurence Lessig who delivered a talk on "Recognizing the fight we're in: A plea for some realism about IP activism". visionOntv was fortunate to catch up with him just after his keynote for a quick interview:

Europe's answer to SOPA/Pipa similarly aims to tackle Internet piracy by facilitating DNS blocking. Yet, what is most concerning about the bill is the secrecy in which its negotations have taken place. As ACTA teeters on the edge of being passed at the European parliament, Cory encouraged people to assist with tools such as Parltrack and Pippilongstrings (available on github) to help screen the EU proceedings and work to expose and fight the sneaky bill.

In order to understand more about exactly how ACTA works - and just how sneaky it is - watch Marc's interview with Jérémie Zimmerman from La Quadrature du Net     hoinn, an advocacy group defending our rights and freedoms on the Internet:

Unsurprisingly, the conference placed emphasis on building a movement and explored some of the tools and tactics available to us as "hacktivists". A packed session in the afternoon explored a bunch of these including initiatives on digital security for activists such as Tech Tools for Activism and Ono the Robot, a guide producted by the Tactical Technology Collective. The group also considered the pros and cons of mobile apps to protect anonymity such as SecureSmartCam, a project of Witness and the Guardian Project.

Another tool is Tor, an anonymity network which offers secure circumvention of internet blockages. Tor is designed to offer us all more choice when it comes to our privacy online, but is especially useful for activists in side-stepping government censorship & surveillance efforts. Find out more about how the network works in Hamish's interview with Wendy Seltzer, fellow at Yale University and on the Board of Directors of the Tor project:

Other murky frontlines in the struggle for a citizen-centred Internet are being fought with governments and companies over privacy and open data. Sometimes seeming like counter forces in the digital space, VisionOntv found out from journalist and author Heather Brooks and Privacy International's Gus Hosein why it is vital that we pay attention to both.

So, did ORGcon gear us up for the next big fight?

This week ACTA will be decided by the European parliament and there remains a question mark in the air about exactly how we intend to fight it. In his interview with Marc, Lessig proposed making a model of the SOPA/Pipa protests by mobilizing a wide range of coalition partners & organizing blackout campaigns to pressurize the governments who will decide its fate. Yet, framing ACTA in a compelling enough way that citizens understand what's at stake remains a challenge.

In the end, Lessig's closing speech highlighted that the issue goes deeper than ACTA. In what might best have captured the "battle-cry" of ORGcon 2012, we - both as the conference's participants and more broadly as citizens - were challenged with organizing more effectively for "the war that is coming". The copyright debate itself is, after all, essentially a question about organizing: how to arrive at alternative models for building culture and commerce in the digital world.

For Lessig, that means redefining the current frontlines. For example, to stop fighting over the question of compensation for creators - who depend on copyright - to focus on the scientist, for who copyright is a block to the distribution of their work. Lessig also warned that we need to "recognize the fight we're in" - including our multibillion dollar opponents - and choose better the battles we can win.

So while ORGcon felt like a movement maturing, there is still a way to go before we are as unified as we need to be. ACTA is the imminent struggle on the horizon. The question is: how to make sure we're ready for it?

The danger of the single story

This week almost everywhere you look, you'll have heard commentary about #KONY12 - the video that aimed to "make famous" the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, one of East and Central Africa's longest operating militia groups. The video reached over 100 million views in 6 days, winning it recognition as the most viral video in history. Yet, despite achieving record level of awareness for one of Africa's longest running and consistently undercovered conflicts, the video has attracted widespread condemnation by media-makers, campaigners and academics.

The complaints are many and have been discussed exhaustively elsewhere and my purpose here is not to re-hash them. (I have included a selection of what I consider to be some of the most thoughtful and interesting critiques below though). 

Instead, I wanted to share this video to a TED talk by Nigerian writer Chimanda Adichie: "The danger of a single story".

Her talk meanders through her personal experience of identity - her story as a middle-class Nigerian girl, comparing herself to the 'less fortunate' kids; her story as an 'African' student in the USA, where she regularly encountered pity for the plight of the continent she represented in American's minds; her story as a US tourist visiting Mexico, where she came up against her own false narrative of a land fuelled by drugs, gangs and violence.

Adichie's point is simple, but beautifully and elegantly told. In her words,

“All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make the one story the only story. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar."

These words strike me as especially relevant as we evaluate the long-term implications of the KONY2012 campaign. Yes, Invisible Children succeeded in raising epic amounts of awareness for a long-running and devastating crisis in Uganda and its neighbouring countries. But to what end?

Those who believe international attention whatever the cost is the most important element is responding to human rights and humanitarian crises worldwide must consider 'the single story' that they risk creating in the process. This is not just a case of denying dignity to those whose stories are being stolen. Neither is it just about the damage of reifying stereotypes and cementing difference. As Adichie expresses in her talk, it is fundmentally a question of power and abuse of that power:

"There is a word an evil word that I think about when I think of the power structures in the world. It is Nkalie and it loosely translates as ‘to be greater than another’. Stories are defined by the principle of nkalie. How they are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told. All are dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person but to make it the definitive story of that person."

By reducing the complex story of twenty years of the LRA's violent operations - across 4 different countries, with tens of thousands of victims - into the simplest of stories that captures a five year old American child's imagination is one thing. By making that story the definitive story of the LRA in Africa is an excusable flexing of Western power. It is tantamount to broadcasting  a loud speaker over all of the voices and all of the stories of all of those affected by KONY and who have been fighting for an end to the conflict for over a decade. (This, without even getting into the even greater danger of linking such an emotive story to a call for US intervention in Uganda and funding for the national military, no questions asked).

Anyway, I said I wouldn't re-hash the same discussions about KONY2012. My main takeaway from 'danger of the single story' parable is that we need multiple and diverse stories. The storytelling should not be left to privileged people who have the skills, the technology and the money to make the glizy feature and thereby create the defining narrative. How about if everyone with a mobile phone had the ability to tell the story? How many more stories would guide global advocacy and our global conversation?

- From Charlie Beckett, founding director of POLIS, the journalism and society think-tank at the LSE’s Media and Communications Department - Why I think the Kony Campaign is wrong - arguing that the video is "not just the wrong means to a good end, it’s a negative in itself" and suggesting that they either stop it or change it.

awareness-raising for

Mobile reporting in action: notes from a beginner

I joined visionOntv this weekend at the Amnesty demonstration in Trafalgar Square standing 'In Solidarity and In Defiance' with the people of the Middle East and North Africa.

After learning a few of the basics in the no-edit mobile news report, I had a go at shooting and conducting interviews with activists and demonstrators.

It is empowering how easy it is to create quality citizen reports with no more than a mobile phone and a mic extension. The results were especially striking with two people - one doing the interview and one behind the camera.

On the other hand, it didn't take long to realise that the tech is only a small part of it.

Yes, ubiquitous mobile cameras give us all the power to be media makers. However, they do not substitute for the importance of training in effective reporting and filmmaking techniques. Knowing how to ask the right questions and to tell a story well remain the basis of good news reporting.

Watching Richard and Glenn was great for picking up tips and the visionOntv mobile phone video templates provided a formula for constructing simple but compelling news stories. Then comes a LOT of practise. After just one day, I had a long list of learning - how easy it is to mess up the sound if you're not careful, how painful it sounds when you waffle through the questions, how to avoid the 'nodding eagerly look' when you're being filmed etc etc. Check back, as I'll definitely share my list when it's long enough!

Below are some pics I took of the event and filming in action. You can watch the interviews here.

Demonstrators at Trafalgar Square

Richard and Glen interview Egyptian activist Dina Makram-Ebeid

 

Maryam Al-Khawaja gives a speech urging an end to the media blackout on repression in Bahrain and declaring the struggle to be between opposition and loyalists and not a matter of ethnic divisions

Granny hipsters reminisce about Facebook

What will we remember of the social media revolution in sixty years time?

An entertaining video from Storyful's Curators Pick, my daily spot to find whatever is quirky and current on the social web. This one is an ad for Social Media Week 2012

...Aging hipsters reminisce about the social media revolution from year 2062...The granny's opening statement - "When we were young the Internet was f***ing awesome. You could get away with anything" - might be a throwaway quip, but growing information controls online could mean we know a very different Internet in 60 years time.

How can we ensure the most positive elements of social media endure, thrive and evolve? - so we're not looking back at a long buried 'golden age' of information freedom in 60 years time.

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