Zeynep Tufekci (previously) leads Tech Review's politics issue with the best overview of the forces that have combined to make the internet so hospitable to totalitarians and racist pigs. Read the rest
Bassel Khartabil was a Syrian free software, free speech and Creative Commons activist who was jailed and tortured by the Assad regime, which eventually secretly sentenced him to death, then executed him in 2015, but kept it a secret until 2017. Read the rest
Syrian Creative Commons lead Bassel Khartabil disappeared in 2012, snatched off the Damascus streets by Syrian authorities; in 2015, he was secretly executed by the Assad regime, a fact that has only just come to light. Read the rest
Zeynep Tufekci (previously) is one of the most consistently astute, nuanced commenters on networked politics and revolutions, someone who's been literally on the front lines around the world. In a new book called Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, she sets out a thesis that (as the title suggests) explores the trade offs that political movements make when they use fluid, improvisational networks to organize themselves, instead of hierarchical, traditional organizations. Read the rest
The UN's International Organization for Migration says that human traffickers paid to smuggle migrants out of sub-Saharan Africa are selling their "clients" to slavers in Libya, who ransom them to their families, starving them and working them to death while they wait for the money to come in. Read the rest
Documentarians and news-gatherers who record sensitive material from confidential sources live in terror of having their cameras seized and their storage-cards plundered by law-enforcement; they struggle to remember to immediately transfer their files to encrypted laptop storage and wipe their cards while dodging bombs in conflict zones, or simply to remember to have robotically perfect operational security while they are trying to get a movie made. Read the rest
This is found net.stuff, but my cursory research suggests it might come from Manama, Bahrain. That dude is s-m-o-o-t-h. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest
If oil stays below $50 a barrel for five years, the Saudis' cash reserve will be exhausted, and with it will also go the social stability that lavish spending for the Saudi elites brings. Read the rest
Once I was a refugee, too. During the fall of former Yugoslavia, I visited many refugees camps all over the war-torn region. I edited a book of refugee stories. Read the rest
The Wall Street Journal covers the FBI's use of malware to take over peoples' computers and phones, including one package that is used to turn the microphone in Android devices into a remote listening device. The story is alarming, but misses the two most significant points:
1. That this undermines the security of all of us, not just the people whom the FBI spies upon. The fact that the FBI and other law enforcement organizations have created a market for bugs that can be turned into spyware means that people who find bugs are less likely to present them to the manufacturers for patching. That means that when those bugs are independently identified by criminals, we're all at risk of having our devices subverted.
2. The same companies that sell malware to the FBI also sell it to dictatorships around the world. The FBI legitimizes the development of spyware that is used by despots to decide whom to arrest, whom to disappear, and whom to murder. Read the rest
Zeynep Tufekci's essay analyzing the role that social media played in both the #OccupyGezi and the Arab Spring explores the differences and similarities between different uprisings, and has some very incisive things to say about what social media contributes to political change movements:
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It was after the Gezi protesters were met with the usual combination of tear-gas and media silence something interesting started happening. The news of the protests started circulating around social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook. I follow a sizable number of people in Turkey and my Twitter friends include AKP supporters as well as media and academics. Everyone was aghast at the idea that a small number of young people, trying to protect trees, were being treated so brutally. Also, the government, which usually tends to get ahead of such events by having the prime minister address incidents, seemingly decided to ignore this round. They probably thought it was too few, too little, too environmental, too marginal.
On that, it seems they were wrong. Soon after, I started watching hashtags pop-up on Twitter, and established Twitter personas –ranging from media stars to political accounts– start sharing information about solidarity gatherings in other cities, and other neighborhoods in Istanbul. Around 3am, I had pictures from many major neighborhoods in Turkey –Kadıköy, Bakırköy, Beşiktaş, Avcılar, etc– showing thousands of people on the streets, not really knowing what to do, but wanting to do something. There was a lot of banging of pots, flags, and slogans. There were also solidarity protests in Izmit, Adana, Izmir, Ankara, Konya, Afyon, Edirne,Mersin, Trabzon, Antalya, Eskişehir, Aydın and growing.
Some interesting research based on the Arab Spring uprisings suggests that the best people to follow on Twitter during a crisis are often not particularly influential on Twitter outside the crisis. Likewise, they aren't likely to have had many followers before the event. Essentially, it's evidence supporting the common sense idea that, if you want the most accurate and relevant information, your best bet is to find people closest to the source, rather than relying on third-hand accounts. Read the rest
Syria's brutal Assad regime has damned few allies left in the world, but one of them, Russia, is governed by a dirty-tricking ruling elite who've made a science out of manipulating Internet opinion. This may explain the weird, stilted pro-Assad astroturf army who appear in any discussion of the regime's atrocities to explain that it's all a Jewish conspiracy.
And on like that. SyriaTribune maintains a YouTube channel stocked with clips from — surprise — Vladimir Putin’s Russia Today portraying Assad as the victim of a bloody-minded western conspiracy. A self-described French intellectual named Thierry Meyssan — author of 9/11 The Big Lie — reveals that TV images purporting to show Assad’s massacres of civilians were prepared by the CIA, along with White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, and “aims at demoralizing the Syrians in order to pave the way for a coup d’etat.” The #FakeRevolution hashtag on Instagram provides pictorial, meme-filled boosterism for Bashar, like a screengrab from Time’ app kindly telling user mybubb1e to stop voting for Assad for Person of the Year or Hillary Clinton with flames shooting out of her eyes and ear, courtesy of Bashar4Ever.
Warren Ellis's Vice column, "How to Shut Down Internets," looks at the phenomenon of Middle Eastern dictators shutting off their nation's Internet during moments of extremis. Here's the money graf:
There are two reasons why these shutdowns happen in this manner. The first is that these governments wish to black out activities like, say, indiscriminate slaughter. That much is obvious. The second is sometimes not so obvious. These governments intend to turn the internet back on. Deep down, they believe they will be in their seats the next month and have the power to turn it back on. They believe they will win. It is the arrogance of power: they take their future for granted, and need only hide from the world the corpses it will be built on.
For me, this raises a couple of much more interesting questions:
1. Why would a basket-case dictator even allow his citizenry to access the Internet in the first place? (A: Because the national economy can't function without it)
2. Why not shut down the Internet the instant trouble breaks out? (A: Because it would be immensely unpopular, even among your sympathizers; also, see 1.)
Update: Bruce Schneier adds: "The reason is that the Internet is a valuable tool for social control. Dictators can use the Internet for surveillance and propaganda as well as censorship, and they only resort to extreme censorship when the value of that outweighs the value of doing all three in some sort of totalitarian balance."