WASHINGTON, July 14, 2011 – Despite U.S. media portrayals of the Arab Spring as spontaneous and enabled by social media, Middle East experts said Wednesday at New America Foundation that the revolutions were part of a decades-long train of events.
Future Tense, a project of the D.C.-based think tank, held a conference to discuss the role of new media in the Arab revolutions of the past year. The afternoon was filled with several different panels and speakers, all experts on the Middle East or social media that presented to a room overflowing with students, embassy and government officials and media professionals.
Several of the speakers delivered their remarks to the conference remotely.
Sami Ben Gharbia, Advocacy Director of Global Voices, spoke to the conference via Skype from his home country of Tunisia. Gharbia was finally able to return home after having been exiled for several years. Cuban blogger and human rights activist Yoani Sanchez delivered her remarks via pre-recorded video, and was represented at the conference by her translator. Sanchez is currently not allowed to travel by order of the Cuban government.
Middle East youth activist bloggers also delivered their insights on the Arab Spring and the role of new media.
“People are actually not allowed to practice politics in Saudi Arabia,” said Ahmed Al Omran, a twenty-something Saudi blogger held in high esteem by Foreign Policy Magazine. “It wasn’t until I started blogging that I learned about politics.”
Omran, who originally began blogging as a way to practice his English, said that technology and the Internet has given the youth a space to speak openly in a way that the older generation did not have before.
“We know it’s risky,” he said, “but to us, it’s worth it.”
Oula Airifai, who fled Syria in 2005 but has stayed closely involved with Syrian politics, also shared her insights and experiences, as did Omid Memarian, an Iranian journalist who shared his insights on protests of the Iranian elections that were broadcast via Twitter.
New America Foundation has garnered recent attention in the spotlight thanks to media coverage of its project with the State Department that would allow activists in repressed countries to set up alternative mobile mesh internet networks – popularly called the ‘Internet in a suitcase.’
“The suitcase was a visual-aide gone out of control,” said program director Sascha Meinrath. Meinrath, who has been developing this type of technology for more than a decade.
Ian Schuler, Senior Program Manager for the State Department’s Internet Freedoms Program emphasized that the point of these programs not regime change, but to facilitate freedom of expression and to allow activists to communicate not just with the outside world but with each other.
“We should not determine who should have what freedom at what time,” said Schuler. “Facilitating basic rights is the right approach at the end of the day.”
Stamping out Election Falsehoods Like Playing Whack-a-Mole, Says Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger
February 5, 2021 – With election misinformation and conspiracy theories rampant in Election 2020, secretaries of state representing pivotal states swapped stories on Thursday about the howlers they faced – and what they did to try to maintain public trust in upholding election integrity.
Perhaps no one faced more pressure to act to overturn the results of his state’s presidential vote tally than Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Among the many false accusations he faced was that a Ron Raffensperger, allegedly a brother of his, works for a Chinese technology firm. While there is such a person, and that person does in fact work for the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei, that Ron Raffensperger is not Brad Raffensperger’s brother.
At Thursday’s meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Raffensperger said again that he does not have a brother named Ron. He also expressed condolences for the real Ron Raffensperger out there.
Stamping out falsehoods is like playing a game of ‘rumor-whack-a-mole,’ said Brad Raffensperger. Once you eradicate one rumor, another just pops up. It’s as if the truth has 30,000 Twitter followers while falsehood has 80 million followers, he added.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addressed the “Sharpiegate” scandal, another fake claim concocted by Republicans. Sharpiegate was the wrong notion pushed by some that Sharpie pens distributed at polling places were handed out for voting.
But the felt-tip pen’s ink bled through the ballot, making it unreadable by a machine and thus keeping the Sharpie victim’s vote from being counted. The twist in this particular story is that only the Sharpie-marked ballots cast by Republican candidates were thrown out, somehow.
While recognizing the seriousness of this misinformation campaign, exacerbated by Eric Trump’s tweets about it, souvenir Sharpies were ordered bearing “Sharpiegate 2020” printed on them – just as a joke, said Hobbs.
Michigan had a plan in place for months on how to collect, process, and release voting results, said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. However, because its processes were so efficient, Michigan caught its critics off guard. This exposed Michigan to accusations of allegedly counting its ballots too fast in an effort to try to “fix” the election. Robocalls targeted minority majority communities, including in Detroit.
Ohio also anticipated a barrage of misinformation. As a preemptive measure, the state rolled out numerous tools and resources to inform citizens of voting processes.
Secretaries of state need to help voters build confidence knowing their voice will be heard in a fair and honest contest, and not to tear it down, said Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State. He praised Ohio’s election integrity and said it had a record low in ballot rejection, and a record high in ballot workers.
The state also tried to stop spreaders of misinformation by warning of felony charges for spreading lies.
At New America Foundation Event on India, Panelists Talk of ‘Digital Colonization’ by U.S. and China
October 1, 2020 – When it comes to social media, India is currently in a “two-house race” between the United States and China, explained India expert Madhulika Srikumar at New America on Wednesday.
Tiktok and Facebook have been big players in this race, each attracted to India’s large audience base.
Srikumar, an attorney formerly with the Cyber Initiative at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, cited two statistics. First, one-third of TikTok’s users were Indian, before the app was banned in June by the Indian government. Second, if India’s Facebook audience were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world.
She explained the recent trend of Chinese and U.S. companies each investing in Indian companies.
New American CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter said in response, “When I hear you Madhu, all I can think of is digital colonization.”
Slaughter stressed that it was vital we don’t have a world where states lock down their internet and asserted that the world would be a better place if there was more competition and if companies had to be more open with their policies
“Our institutions for holding power accountable are still from the analog age,” Said Rebecca MacKinnon, founding director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights project, adding that there’s nothing in our law that could prevent Tiktok from becoming a vehicle for hate speech.
Slaughter blamed the platforms, claiming that platforms were publishers wielding great political power who were responsible for polarization and declining trust.
She pointed to a future Biden-Harris administration, and projected that if elected, it would provide a new vision for internet policy by working with a number of other countries, including Europe, to adopt global standards for a free internet. This consortium would insist that companies abide by such rules.
When asked whether the UN could play a role, Slaughter said that it could, but it would need to have strong member support since “the current U.S. government has distain for non-US institutions.” The United Nations would have difficulty putting regulations in place with one of it’s biggest members not being supportive.
MacKinnon agreed that UN involvement would be complicated. For the past decade, there’s been a fight brewing over who sets standards for the tech community and for global technologies.
Srikumar, in turn, appealed for greater resources to flesh out what exactly an open internet means, as well as a move to divorce content from gatekeepers.
Joshua Keating, senior editor of Slate moderated the webinar.
See also “The Privacy Negotiators: The Need for U.S. Tech Companies to Mediate Agreements on Government Access to Data in India,” by Madhulika Srikumar on New America
Mobile Technology Aided the Growth of Black Lives Matter, But Will Hashtag Outrage Lead to Change?
September 21, 2020 — In the United States, widespread public use of mobile phone cameras and social media has thrust the longstanding issue of police brutality against Black Americans into the national spotlight like never before.
Delving deeply into the subject of how digital tools have contributed to the goals of anti-brutality activists, panelists at a Brookings Institution event on September 14 detailed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and whether the explosive growth of the hashtag #BLM might result in any institutional change.
In the summer of 2014, videos, images, and text narratives of violent encounters between police officers and unarmed Black people circulated widely through news and social media, spurring public outrage.
“A large digital archive of Tweets started in 2014, when Michael Brown was killed,” said Rashawn Ray, professor of sociology and executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland.
Media activism fueled by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner gave rise to Black Lives Matter, or #BLM, a loosely-coordinated, nationwide movement dedicated to ending police brutality, which uses online media extensively.
The panelists referenced the “Beyond the Hashtag” report authored by Meredith Clark, assistant professor at the University of Virginia, analyzes the movement’s rise on Twitter.
“Mobile technology became an agent of change,” said Mignon Clyburn, former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, referring to the 2007 introduction of the iPhone as a turning point in the way individuals utilize devices. “Devices became smaller, less expensive, and more ubiquitous,” said Clyburn, “we are now seeing a global, mobile revolution.”
Increased accessibility to mobile devices and social media cracked open doors previously kept tightly shut by pro-corporate, pro-government gatekeepers of the media, which spread anti-Black ideologies. Mobile devices initiated a leveling of the media playing field, allowing for marginalized groups to intervene in dialogues.
“Black Americans have the opportunity to share distinctively what is happening to us,” said Nicol Turner Lee, senior fellow in governance studies and the director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institute.
“These videos show our humanity, and how it is destroyed and undermined,” added Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
While videos taken to report instances of police brutality are critical resources, they come with significant consequences for those filming and viewing them.
In order to record an instance of police, an individual has to be courageous, as many citizen journalists attempting to capture an act of police brutality, end up a subject of cruelty.
“You have the right to record protected under First Amendment,” Clarke informed, urging that officers be trained on respecting citizens First Amendment rights to film.
While recording instances of police brutality is distressing in itself, sharing the video online, although necessary, amplifies the video’s power to traumatize indefinitely. “There will no doubt be a generation of children that will be traumatized,” by repeatedly seeing images of Black Americans brutalized by the police, said Lee.
Clarke urged individuals who decide to share content, to do so with a trigger warning.
While digital tools have enabled video evidence of brutality to be caught, amass widespread attention, and cause public outrage, as of yet, it has not translated into real-life justice for Black individuals. Difficulty to bring prosecution against excessively violent officers remains.
Clarke noted that police union contracts are barriers to reform. “The terms of collective bargaining agreements allow officers to see video evidence before reporting on how the events transpired,” detailed Clarke.
Ray called for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, H.R. 7120, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, which he said was currently ‘collecting dust’ in the Senate.
The bill would establish new requirements for law enforcement officers and agencies, necessitating them to report data on use-of-force incidents, obtain training on implicit bias and racial profiling, and wear body cameras.
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