Government Crack Down on peace, goodwill and social media

Social media platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have made everyone a publisher. With nothing more than a smart phone, people are able to share news, photographs and video. This new level of freedom of communication has been causing concerns for those who wish to control the media, the message and the mob. Orwell’s Big Brother is none too happy.

Today’s totalitarian state is not the fictional Oceania, but rather places we already have on the radar over concerned with democracy, human rights and human dignity.  Twitter made headlines in June last year when the US State Department asked the company to delay a scheduled down time. The delay was requested in the name of democracy to prevent interference with the organising ability of Iranians protesting against elections widely held to be corrupt.

In the lead up to those elections, Iranian authorities banned Facebook, then reinstated it after Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a former vice president of Iran, noted that, “Facebook is one of the only independent sources that the Iranian youth could use to communicate”. He said without it, people would be “forced to rely on government sources”. Perhaps the Iranian regime felt exposed by such comments?

Skip forward 15 months and Iran has a new strategy. Shown on Iranian TV (now on YouTube with subtitles) is a news bulletin explaining why Facebook and Twitter are evil. Complete with spooky music, the clip informs views that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is a Jew but doesn’t believe in God. If that didn’t convince you Facebook was evil, it goes on to say Facebook was created to source operatives for western intelligence organisations. To prove this it cuts to a silhouette of a man described as a Facebook user. Our mystery man says he has worked for Facebook for 18 months, and for spy agencies. He claims to reads information on Facebook and then sell it to these spy agencies.  He claims to be doing it for the great money involved.

Soon we have another silhouette. This one claims twitter asked him to share his conversations with them so the data might be used by intelligence agencies. The section ends with a warning that social media sites are the hidden enemy. Next we have a claim that “Facebook is an Israeli spying website“. This is supported by a mocked up front page of the Independent Newspaper. The clip ends with claims of propaganda, psychological warfare and an anti-Iranian network that includes social media and the BBC and aims to change the Iranian people’s culture and faith. This “subtle” attack aims to deter use of a medium of self expression the regime is finding impossible to control.

Iran is not alone. Recently Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population in the world, joined the attack on social media. The trouble this time is a Facebook page seeking to create warmer relations between Israel and Indonesia. The page bills itself as a virtual embassy of Israel to Indonesia. It says it is for people who are friends of both countries, and so far there are over 56 thousand fans, most of them in Indonesia. The page expresses a wish that real embassies can soon be built and diplomatic relations established. Not if the Indonesian government gets its way.

Al Muzammil Yusuf, a member of the Indonesian parliament’s Commission on Defense, foreign affairs and information, said the Ministry of Communications and Information would take action over the page under its oversight authority for the use of technology. He also called for an investigation to find who initiated the page. It’s starting to sound just a little like the Iranian regime’s witch hunt which led to imprisonments, injuries and killings.

Indonesia is listed amongst the free nations of the world by the highly respected NGO Freedom House.  Such a move against good will, cooperation, and self expression by Indonesia would be shocking given their freedom status is the same as that of Australia or Canada. Then again, in Australia or Canada it’s unlikely the Communication and Information Minister would be causing a stir by using twitter to share Adolf Hitler quotes. That’s this week’s other Indonesian technology story.

Social media, if properly managed, poses a real threat to those working against peace, truth and good will amongst peoples. The management however needs to be based on ethical principles. Governments do have rights in this process and international laws, standards and policies should be considered. Companies like Facebook need to establish relations with governments outside the USA, learn from the experience of others, and chart a course that is good not only for their bottom line but for humanity. With social media comes social responsibility, both for users and for platform owners.

Dr Andre Oboler is social media expert. He is based in Australia and runs the Community Internet Engagement Project.

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to Google Buzz Post to Reddit Post to Slashdot Post to StumbleUpon Post to Technorati

, , , , ,

Iran’s propaganda against Facebook and Twitter

The Iranian regime has been producing propaganda targeting social media Facebook and Twitter. These sites played a significant role in mobilizing opposition forces during the Iranian elections in June 2009. The election result was disputed and the process was fraught with government corruption. When the government chose to respond militarily, this led to riots.

Barbara Lochbihler, Chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Iran, said a year later, “since June 2009, when hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Tehran, the Basij militia and other security forces have been harshly cracking down on all opposition forces.” She added there had been “Mock executions, torture, rape, death sentences” and that “the record points to a terrible human rights situation.”

The Iran regime is now not only targeting opposition figures, and using its intelligence agencies to target dissidents abroad, it is now trying to smear social networking itself. It does this by preposterous accusations of Israeli control, American government control and “interviews” with workers who are silhouetted to protect their privacy and then make claims that they worked for Facebook in once case and Twitter in another, and that western intelligence agencies asked them to use the social networking tools so they could gather information on their friends. It also suggests the Mossad is behind these social media platforms. The allegations are so out of touch with the nature and reality of social networking, any one with an account will see straight through them. The are however designed to spread fear, and perhaps will keep new users off the social networking sites.

The Iranian regime started by arresting bloggers, and having agents spread a message that people should not trust Twitter. Over time they have been rounding up, arresting and in some cases killing dissidents who use social media. At the same time they run Press TV, an English language propaganda service masquerading as part of the free press.

Now they are going after the concept of social media itself. They want to put the genie back in the bottle and restrict information flow so that only the official message can get out, a message which like the elections they hope they can control. They aim to do this through fear, and this propaganda video is part of that process.

["allowFullScreen":"true","allowScriptAccess":"always","src":"http://www.youtube.com/v/V9bluTcULG0&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&version=3","allowfullscreen":"true"]

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to Google Buzz Post to Reddit Post to Slashdot Post to StumbleUpon Post to Technorati

, , , , , ,

Government a welcome presence in cyber regulation

The following article by Andre Oboler was published in the Australian Jewish News on May 7 2010, page 23. It is a reprint of a piece in Jerusalem Post.

Merely allowing debate on the internet is not enough to prevent cyber-racism. Governments need to step in to regulate the proliferation of hateful messages on social media sites.

The US Congress and the Italian parliament deserve credit; last week both held hearings into combatting on-line anti-Semitism. The differing testimony, however, highlights the gap between the US and the rest of the world. As one of the experts to appear before the Italian parliament, I had the opportunity to focus on the heart of the problem and to explore the ineffectiveness of the approach advocated to Congress just days earlier.

The hearing in Rome examined both Italian-language Web sites that distributed anti-Semitic literature and imagery, and the international problem in social media. The Web 2.0 examples I presented came from Facebook, YouTube, Google Groups, MySpace and Flickr. They included conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, blood libel, demonization and other classic and modern forms of anti-Semitism – all easily found across the spectrum of social media sites.

The heart of the problem is that such material is largely accepted as legitimate expression. Why should something condemned by society were it published in print or placed on posters on city streets suddenly become legitimate simply because it appears on-line?

Social media sites are incredibly powerful. YouTube, for example, has a user base 50 times larger than the combined circulation of the top 10 newspapers in America. Can such a powerful medium really exist free of governmental control? With the power these companies wield, is no obligation owed to society?

Anti-Semitism 2.0 is the spread of the social acceptability of anti-Semitism through Web 2.0 technology. It creates an environment in which to be racist is no worse than to support the wrong soccer team. In such an environment, hate spreads, and society is conditioned to accept it. The danger is not just for the Jewish community, but reflects a wider breakdown in society’s values. If on-line society continues to develop in a moral vacuum, the lack of respect for human dignity may soon be reflected back in the “real” world.

THE US Congress focused on violence motivated by hate. In Italy we focused on the promotion of hate itself. Incitement to hate is a danger to public order, whether or not violence follows. Freedom of expression comes with responsibility – a point clearly made in the UN Charter on Civil and Political Rights. While Congress heard, once again, the tired argument of counterspeech as the best response, the Italian parliament discussed in technical detail the limits of counterspeech on platforms like Facebook.

On Facebook, having one group denying the Holocaust and another remembering the Holocaust would not be counterspeech, but rather two unrelated dialogues. To try to engage in debate in the Holocaust denial group is to promote it to all your contacts, not to mention entering a space controlled by the deniers where counterarguments can be deleted and those attempting counterspeech banished. It’s like responding to an anti-Semitic newspaper by sending it letters to the editor.

What’s worse, the curious might then view Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic propaganda, some of it direct from the Nazis, as something “contentious” and “debatable” rather than as a known and dangerous falsehood that has led to the death of millions.

There is no reason for platforms like Facebook and YouTube to facilitate the spread of hate. There is no reason on-line communities should be free of social values and human rights. The challenge is to create a civil society on-line. Such a society is not made through groups promoting NGOs, but through the adoption of ethical behavior by platform providers, on-line community leaders and the public.

Counterspeech certainly has its place, but it cannot be relied upon as a silver bullet. The correct place for counterspeech is with friends, where hate can be exposed and explained while we wait for the platform to remove it.

THE FIGHT for civil rights has been a long one. We should not have to start from scratch simply because of a change in technology and the emergence of social media companies with more reach than any newspaper. At minimum, companies that allow anyone to publish should allow anyone to complain. At minimum, such complaints should be reviewed in a reasonable time, and if they are dismissed as groundless those who file them should be given the option of recourse through the courts if the content is illegal.

In Europe, and indeed almost everywhere beside the US, hate speech against minorities is already illegal. If companies get it wrong, if they insist on harboring hate either by rejecting valid complaints or through excessively slow response rates, it should be governments who hold them to account.

We have tackled copyright as a result of the music industry; we have tackled privacy largely as a result of government officials in Canada and Italy; next we must tackle the promotion of racism and hate. It is up to governments and intergovernmental organizations to make this a priority for social media companies. Yes, there will be costs, but it is no more than the cost of doing business in what remains a very lucrative market.

Andre Oboler is director of the Community Internet Engagement PRoject at the Zionist Federation of Australia, and co-chair of the working group on online anti-Semitism for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to Google Buzz Post to Reddit Post to Slashdot Post to StumbleUpon Post to Technorati

, , , ,

New media needs a new approach to antisemitism

Originally published as: Andre Oboler, New media needs a new approach to anti-Semitism, Jerusalem Post, 27 April, 2010

Why should something condemned by society, were it published in print, suddenly become legitimate simply because it appears on-line?

The US Congress and the Italian parliament deserve credit; last week both held hearings into combatting on-line anti-Semitism. The differing testimony, however, highlights the gap between the US and the rest of the world. As one of the experts to appear before the Italian parliament, I had the opportunity to focus on the heart of the problem and to explore the ineffectiveness of the approach advocated to Congress just days earlier.

The hearing in Rome examined both Italian-language Web sites that distributed anti-Semitic literature and imagery, and the international problem in social media. The Web 2.0 examples I presented came from Facebook, YouTube, Google Groups, MySpace and Flickr. They included conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, blood libel, demonization and other classic and modern forms of anti-Semitism – all easily found across the spectrum of social media sites.

The heart of the problem is that such material is largely accepted as legitimate expression. Why should something condemned by society were it published in print or placed on posters on city streets suddenly become legitimate simply because it appears on-line?

Social media sites are incredibly powerful. YouTube, for example, has a user base 50 times larger than the combined circulation of the top 10 newspapers in America. Can such a powerful medium really exist free of governmental control? With the power these companies wield, is no obligation owed to society?

Anti-Semitism 2.0 is the spread of the social acceptability of anti-Semitism through Web 2.0 technology. It creates an environment in which to be racist is no worse than to support the wrong soccer team. In such an environment, hate spreads, and society is conditioned to accept it. The danger is not just for the Jewish community, but reflects a wider breakdown in society’s values. If on-line society continues to develop in a moral vacuum, the lack of respect for human dignity may soon be reflected back in the “real” world.

THE US Congress focused on violence motivated by hate. In Italy we focused on the promotion of hate itself. Incitement to hate is a danger to public order, whether or not violence follows. Freedom of expression comes with responsibility – a point clearly made in the UN Charter on Civil and Political Rights. While Congress heard, once again, the tired argument of counterspeech as the best response, the Italian parliament discussed in technical detail the limits of counterspeech on platforms like Facebook.

On Facebook, having one group denying the Holocaust and another remembering the Holocaust would not be counterspeech, but rather two unrelated dialogues. To try to engage in debate in the Holocaust denial group is to promote it to all your contacts, not to mention entering a space controlled by the deniers where counterarguments can be deleted and those attempting counterspeech banished. It’s like responding to an anti-Semitic newspaper by sending it letters to the editor.

What’s worse, the curious might then view Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic propaganda, some of it direct from the Nazis, as something “contentious” and “debatable” rather than as a known and dangerous falsehood that has led to the death of millions.

There is no reason for platforms like Facebook and YouTube to facilitate the spread of hate. There is no reason on-line communities should be free of social values and human rights. The challenge is to create a civil society on-line. Such a society is not made through groups promoting NGOs, but through the adoption of ethical behavior by platform providers, on-line community leaders and the public.

Counterspeech certainly has its place, but it cannot be relied upon as a silver bullet. The correct place for counterspeech is with friends, where hate can be exposed and explained while we wait for the platform to remove it.

THE FIGHT for civil rights has been a long one. We should not have to start from scratch simply because of a change in technology and the emergence of social media companies with more reach than any newspaper. At minimum, companies that allow anyone to publish should allow anyone to complain. At minimum, such complaints should be reviewed in a reasonable time, and if they are dismissed as groundless those who file them should be given the option of recourse through the courts if the content is illegal.

In Europe, and indeed almost everywhere beside the US, hate speech against minorities is already illegal. If companies get it wrong, if they insist on harboring hate either by rejecting valid complaints or through excessively slow response rates, it should be governments who hold them to account.

We have tackled copyright as a result of the music industry; we have tackled privacy largely as a result of government officials in Canada and Italy; next we must tackle the promotion of racism and hate.

It is up to governments and intergovernmental organizations to make this a priority for social media companies. Yes, there will be costs, but it is no more than the cost of doing business in what remains a very lucrative market.

The writer is director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia, and cochairman of the working group on on-line anti-Semitism for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to Google Buzz Post to Reddit Post to Slashdot Post to StumbleUpon Post to Technorati

, , , , , , ,
, , , , ,
, , , , , , , , ,

Pesach Seders on Twitter

CIE’s Director, Dr Andre Oboler, appeared in the Passover issues of the New York Jewish Week.  The article in question examined the phenomena of twitter seders and asked whether this use of social media was a positive development. The article, Let My People … Tweet, is by Sharon Udasin and available on the Jewish Week website.

The full quotation provided by Dr Oboler was as follows:

Passover, in my experience, is the biggest gathering of those closest to us short of a major simcha. Leaving to one side the differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Liberal Judaism, the question you are really asking is what does technology enables and at what price? Twitter, and to some extent Facebook, provide a yearlong ongoing chatter of minor news from friends to vague acquaintances. This is a surface level connection, wide and shallow. This can be a distraction and become the focus of our communication rather than time face to face with those we are closest to. Pesach, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the shalosh regalim, is a time for gathering together. It is, perhaps, a time to disconnect from the world and focus on those closest to us and on a distant past well before the advent of the mobile phone and the computer. This night at least should be different from all other nights. It may take a special effort, but there is indeed something deeper and of great value if we want to take the opportunity. Experiencing the past as if we were there might just require us to switch off in order to be switched on.

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to Google Buzz Post to Reddit Post to Slashdot Post to StumbleUpon Post to Technorati

, , , , , ,