Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category


Getting around the Great Firewall of China as June 4 approaches

June 4 is remembered as the day the Chinese government brutally shut down a peaceful demonstration in Tiananmen Square in Beijing that was calling for reforms in the ruling Communist Party and in the government.

One of the most famous scenes is the lone man with shopping bags standing up to a column of tanks.

While no official death toll has been released by the Chinese government, estimates are that hundreds died in the army attack on the demonstrators. An additional 10,000 or so were arrested.

Each year in Hong Kong there is a major commemoration ceremony — the only place in China that has such a thing, thanks to the protection of civil rights enshrined in the handover treaty of 1997.

Also each year the Chinese government tries to censor any reference to June 4 or the demonstration. And each year it fails, because the Netizens of China stay one step ahead of censors.

One of the earliest work arounds was a call to honor the dead of May 35. Or Remember the Square of 8. (For the math-phobic, 8×8=64 and 64=June 4)

The good people at China Digital Times have been keeping track of the code words and phrases the Chinese censors have banned on the Internet. One of the more humorous items is how the ban on “64” caused reporting on the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points. (Yes, that looks like 6/4/89) Rather than risk anyone thinking it was a Tiananmen remembrance, the government doctored the stock report for public consumption.

Here is the China Digital Times list. It is well worth the read.: Five Years of Sensitive Words on June Fourth

Be sure to pay close attention the ASCII cartoon of tanks rolling over a person.

 

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U.S. to fund anti-censorship programs

The U.S. government announced it will set aside US$30 million to fight Internet censorship.

Michael Posner, assistant Secretary of State for human rights, is quoted in the Guardian that the projects will include “slingshot” technology that will identify censored material and throw it back on to the web for users to find.

“We’re responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat,” Posner said. Censored information would be redirected to email, blogs and other online sources, he said. He would not identify the recipients of funding for “reasons of security”.

See rest of story at: New Efforts Announced To Fight Internet Censorship

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Harnessing computers to get better journalism

First posted at SPJDC.org, the website of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Hong Kong University Journalism and Media Center sponsored a talk by Rutgers University media researcher, Nick Diakopoulos late last month.

The topic: Innovation and Computing in Journalism.

“As information comes at us faster and faster, we have more and more data to deal with,” Diakopoulos said. “Social media is pumping out terabytes of this every day. We need computers to help us deal with that scale.”

Diakopoulos defined computational journalism as “using computing to facilitate, enable and reinvigorate the practices and processes of journalism, including collecting, organising, making sense of, communicating and disseminating news information, while upholding the values of journalism such as fairness and accuracy.”

As part of the presentation Diakopoulos presented two programs to help wade through all that data.

  • Videolyzer” is a fact checking application designed for online videos.
  • Vox Event Analytics,” that asks, “What would a journalist ask from social media, what could be interesting?”

JMSC Media Talk: Innovation and Computing in Journalism from JMSC HKU on Vimeo.

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China nervous over microblogging

Posted first at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

To no one’s surprise, the Chinese leadership sees microblogging as a tool to destroy China. And events in Egypt and Libya are just more “evidence” of that belief.

China Digital Times has a series of articles about how Beijing is reacting to the use of microblogging sites such as Twitter in the uprisings in Egypt and Libya. They are well worth a read.

Microblogging in China and Egypt: Two Views

From China Media Project director Ying Chan:

Despite all attempts by the leadership to stifle the discussion and “guide” public opinion, however, popular voices demanding the truth and pushing for greater openness have only increased. On the virtual public square of the Internet, Chinese explore sensitive issues through the constant invention and re-invention of memes, so that keyword blocking becomes largely irrelevant; they use proxy servers to get around censorship and post what they wish.

The gap between the people and the government is deepening as well, a divide compounding the gaps between rich and poor, and between the city and countryside.

From People’s Daily columnist Li Hongmei:

Just give another thought to the case of Egypt, the Western media again never hesitate to cash in on the idea that the Egyptian uprising was Internet Revolution, and it was Twitter and Face book that helped spur on international coverage of the events unfolding, which ultimately led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. However, the West pays no heed to the true feeling of the ordinary Egyptians who actually have no access to computers, and pushed to streets by the few elites with some idea of reform enlightened by the Western-style democracy, and motivated to follow suit by the slogans and symbols which sound all alien to their knowledge.

Kinda sounds as if the official Chinese line is that democracy is alien to Arabs and therefore they (the Arabs) shouldn’t have it.

In another article (China Official Warns Of Domestic Unrest And “Hostile” West) the party leadership pulls out all the stops:

Chen Jiping, deputy secretary general of the Communist Party’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee:

“The schemes of some hostile Western forces attempting to Western and split us are intensifying, and they are waving the banner of defending rights to meddle in domestic conflicts and maliciously create all kinds of incidents.”

And, of course, those “schemes” are all being carried out by the use of unfettered Tweets.

There are a whole series of updates and commentaries at the CDN site about China’s reaction to blogs and microblogs:

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Nervous China blocks term associated with “tea” and “revolution”

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

After the “Jasmine Revolution” in Egypt, the party leadership in China has been getting nervous.

During the uprising in Egypt, “Mubarak” and “Egypt” were blocked by the censors running the Great Chinese Firewall. The latest term to be blocked could hurt people who want to talk about a particular kind of very popular tea.

Searches for the word “jasmine” were blocked Saturday on China’s largest Twitter-like microblog, and the website where the request first appeared said it was hit by an attack.

According to the Associated Press, activists circulated a call for people to gather in more than a dozen cities Sunday for a “Jasmine Revolution.” (China blocks web calls for “Jasmine Revolution)

According to the report, those receiving the message did not know who started the call but they seemed more than willing to pass it on. The message reportedly called on people to show up in town squares in 13 cities and shout “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness.”

The authorities are taking the chain-letter seriously. They started rounding up  dissidents and their lawyers all day Saturday.

A U.S.-based Chinese-language website — Boxun.com — was the first to post the call. Within hours it was hit with a denial of service attack.

The site operators told the AP it was the most serious denial of service attack they ever received. They added the company believes the attack is related to the Jasmine Revolution proposed on Feb. 20 in China.

I really do wonder what will happen if people want to discuss the qualities of different jasmine teas.

UPDATE:

You can go to the Boxun site to get an update of what happened. (Use Google Translate if you don’t read simplified Chinese characters.)

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RSF Internet Enemies List: Few Surprises

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Reporters Without Borders has a great list of governments that are “Enemies of the Internet.”

And there are no real surprises. The hostility governments in places such as Burma, China, Cuba exhibit toward freedom of speech, press and expression is well documented. What I like about the RSF Internet list is the detail it provides about those governments.

For example in China we learn more than just the Great Firewall is functioning but also that the number of Internet users in the country exceeds the population of the United States (384 million Chinese Internet users v. 308 million people in the United States.)

We also learn that the average cost of one hour of Internet cafe time is US$2/hour. To me this is interesting because the average MONTHLY wage in China is US$219-274.

And we learn that 72 “netizens” are in Chinese jails, among them Nobel Peace Prize winner Lio Xaiobo who is serving an 11-year jail term for writing his opinions on the Internet and helping launch Charter 08.

We also see more details about the censoring of information in China and its impact on a generation of Chinese:

On the eve of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square events, a dozen websites such as Twitter, YouTube, Bing, Flickr, Opera, Live, WordPress and Blogger were blocked. The information blackout has been so well-enforced for the last 20 years that the vast majority of young Chinese citizens are not even aware that the events of June 1989 ever happened.

Other countries listed as enemies of the Internet are:

  • Burma: Two high-ranking government officials sentenced to death for having e-mailed documents abroad: Net censorship is a serious matter in Burma. Massive filtering of websites and extensive slowdowns during times of unrest are daily occurrences for the country’s Internet users.
  • Cuba: Despite a few improvements, Internet access actually remains beyond the reach of most of the population because of its high cost and low connection speeds. The regime, which maintains two parallel network, is now taking aim at a small blogger community that is becoming increasingly active.
  • Egypt: Since early 2007, the government has been reinforcing Web surveillance in the name of the fight against terrorism, under the iron fist of a special department of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior. Facebook is monitored, rather than blocked, so that activists can be observed or arrested. Authorities are monitoring their people’s emails and telephone calls without any court order, by virtue of the Telecommunications Law, which requires Internet service providers to supply them with the necessary surveillance services and equipment.
  • Iran: Censorship is a core part of Iran’s state apparatus. Internet surveillance has been centralized, thereby facilitating implementation of censorship.
  • North Korea: Let’s start with an average charge for one hour’s connection at a cybercafé at US$8.19 with an average monthly salary of US$17.74. The large majority of the population is not even aware that the Internet exists. An extremely limited Intranet has been created, but few can access it.
  • Saudi Arabia: Websites that broach the subject of religion, human rights or positions taken by the opposition are rendered inaccessible. Far from denying it, the authorities maintain that their censorship decisions are justified and claim to have blocked some 400,000 websites.
  • Syria: The country is reinforcing its censorship of troublesome topics on the Web and tracking netizens who dare to express themselves freely on it. As a result, social networks have been particularly targeted by omnipresent surveillance.
  • Tunisia: The Internet is seen as a potential threat to the country’s stability and image and is thus the target of pernicious censorship. Very strict filtering, opponent harassment and Big Brother-like surveillance enable the authorities to keep tight control over the news media.
  • Turkmenistan: Very strict filtering is now focused on critical publications likely to target local users and potential dissidents. Opposition websites and regional news sites covering Central Asia are also blocked. YouTube and LiveJournal are rendered inaccessible.
  • Uzbekistan: This country is deprived of independent media outlets. The authorities impose a very strict Internet censorship, while refusing to admit it publicly. Website filtering, sanctions and intimidation are used against potential critics of the regime. Netizens have learned to practice self-censorship.
  • Vietnam: The government claims to filter only content that is obscene or endangers national security, but censorship also affects opposition websites or those that are in any way critical of the regime. Censorship primarily involves blocking website addresses, and particularly concerns sites in Vietnamese.

Then there are countries the RSF is keeping an eye on, such as Australia:

Under the guise of fighting child pornography, the government wants to set up a filtering system never before seen in a democracy. The State of South Australia has passed a law prohibiting online anonymity in an electoral context.

And South Korea:

The authorities are using the criminalization of defamation against their critics and do not hesitate to make examples of them. Since June 2008, a dozen Web surfers have been briefly arrested and interrogated for having posted online comments critical of the government within the context of these demonstrations.

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Belarus government accused of Internet hijinks

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Hal Roberts at the Watching Technology blog at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society has an interesting report about how the Belarus government seems to be playing dirty tricks on the opposition candidates and media outlets in that country.

Roberts, who monitors access to the Internet and Distributed Denial of Service attacks has been receiving reports of DDoS attacks against a number of media and opposition party sites leading up to Sunday’s election. He points out that a DDoS is the first step any dictator uses to prevent the opposition from building up a following.

There are also reports that the international connections necessary to send securely posted content to places such as Gmail, Facebook and Twitter are being blocked. And the blocking seems to be for all international sites not just ones the government might find offensive.

But just to make sure that the opposition does not get a fair break online, BELPAK, the Belarussian national ISP, apparently was redirecting requests from independent media sites to copies presumably run by pro-government forces and maybe the government itself. (Kind of like a government sanctioned Yes Men.)

That means as people — or news organizations — try to access the opposition parties or independent news media, they are diverted to a fake site that looks like the original. The benefit for the government is that it can remove anything it doesn’t like and no one would be the wiser.

By election day some of the diverting ceased, according the Roberts’ sources.

Why is it important for journalists to know about this?

  1. As with the democracies, the websites of the media and political parties are important tools in getting more information about the campaign.
  2. With few foreign correspondents on the ground in Belarus, the Internet connections to conduct e-mail interviews and to research the campaigns are vital.
  3. Knowing about the hacks and attacks on independent media and political parties helps provide more information about the nature of the government of a country. And knowing the nature of a government helps explain (or put into context) government and opposition statements about social issues and the elections.
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Watergate to WilikLeaks: Nieman conference

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Yesterday (12/16) There was a great conference on secrecy and journalism held by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism called From Watergate to Wikileaks: Secrecy and journalism in the new media age.

The list of panelists and speakers included the top names in new and old media. And fortunately for those of us who were no where near Harvard yesterday, videos and blogs are posted on the Nieman site.

Some sample Tweets from the session on Whither the Gatekeeper? Navigating New Rules and Roles in the Age of Radical Transparency:

BBCPhilippaT: Washington Post “veteran” intelligence reporter Walter Pincus: #wikileaks is one more source but one that plays a clever PR game#niemanleaks

Jonathan Seitz: WP: MY resposiblity is to lay out a standard. 1. is it true? 2. is it relevant? in context? 3. Is is something that I think the public ought to know?

Jonathan Seitz: WP: I think the wikileaks release left it up to journalists to decide what to print.. and I think that’s the right thing.

lalorek: Lesson from Wikileaks is there is a huge amount of material coming out of government that people just don’t read, says Pincus #NiemanLeaks

NiemanReports: Danielle Brian (POGO) at #niemanLeaks conf : It doesn’t matter if WikiLeaks is journo org. 1st A. applies to everyone http://bit.ly/eYfAcp

BBCPhilippaT: “Just having access to the data doesnt mean that we can understand it”. Need journalists to break that barrier. Clint Hendler #niemanleaks

Here is a list of the sessions with links to the pages of blogs and Tweets:

KEYNOTE I

Journalism’s Role: Freedom of Information in the Digital Age (9:10 – 9:50 a.m.)

PANEL I: GLOBAL STRUGGLE

Prosecuted, Banned, Blamed: Reporters Push Boundaries as a Voice of Public Accountability (10 – 11:15 a.m.)

PANEL II: NATIONAL CHALLENGES

Whither the Gatekeeper? Navigating New Rules and Roles in the Age of Radical Transparency (11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.)

KEYNOTE II

Secrets, National Security and the Press: Does WikiLeaks Change Anything? (1:15 – 2:15 p.m.)

PANEL III: FUTURE OF TRANSPARENCY

Secrets 2.0: Exploring Entrepreneurial Answers to Journalistic Obligations (2:30 – 4:30 p.m.)

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Making sense of global numbers

Trying to explain the relationship of massive amounts of data takes more than just being a good wordsmith. It takes someone who knows how to help people see the relationships.

This is a great video that looks at 200 years of development in 200 countries.

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Twitter brings world to Amman ICFJ conference

First posted at DC SPJ.

The International Center For Journalists held a seminar today (Nov. 27) in Amman, Jordan.

Anyone with a Twitter account could follow the discussion as American Drew Sullivan talked. Or you could come in much later and read the Tweets and get a good overview of event.

To make life easier on our members, I used Storify to arrange the ICFJ Tweets from the discussion.

Drew Sullivan talks with journalists in Amman

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