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January 20 2012

17:12

Poll: What Do You Think About the Anti-SOPA Protests?

Can online protests make a difference? In the past, they've had mixed success but with enough people pushing against the twin anti-piracy bills, SOPA and PIPA, the U.S. Congress was forced to pay heed. They have now put off bringing the bills to a vote, while contemplating rewrites and changes to the bills. Google alone collected more than 7 million signatures online for a petition against the bills. So what was your experience on Wednesday during the day of protest? Were you moved or unmoved? Did you take action or did life go on as normal? Share your experience in the comments below, and vote in our poll.


What do you think about the anti-SOPA protests?

For more on the protests, check out these recent stories on MediaShift:

> Mediatwits #34: SOPA Protests Make a Difference; Yang Out at Yahoo

> Your Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests

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January 19 2012

18:20

Daily Must-Reads, Jan. 19, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung

1. TV news starts covering SOPA after fleet of major sites go dark (TV Newser)

2. Did the anti-SOPA protests work? (PC World)

3. Apple unveils iBooks Author, an app for easy self-publishing (GigaOm)

4. Why the news industry should mimic Hulu, Netflix (Nieman Lab)

5. Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks, talks to the Rolling Stone (The Rolling Stone)

Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!







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December 01 2011

12:30

10 liveblogging ideas (and 30 liveblogging tips)

Liveblogging image by Dustin Diaz on Flickr

Liveblogging image by Dustin Diaz on Flickr

Following my previous post about the rise of liveblogging, I wanted to provide a simple list of ideas for student journalists wanting to get some liveblogging experience. Some people assume that you need to wait for a big news event to start a liveblog, but the format has proved particularly flexible in serving a whole range of editorial demands. Here are just a few:

1. A protest or demonstration

Let’s start with the obvious one. Protests and demonstrations are normally planned and announced in advance, so use a tool like Google Alerts to receive emails when the terms are mentioned, as well as following local campaigning groups and local branches of national campaigns. Issues to consider:

  • There will be conflicting versions of events so seek to verify as much as possible – from both demonstrators and police, and any other parties, such as counter-demonstrations.
  • Know as many key facts ahead of time as possible to be able to contextualise any claims from any side. Have links to hand – Delicious is particularly useful as a way of organising these.
  • Make contacts ahead of the event to find out who will be recording it and how those records will be published (e.g. livestream, YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps etc). Make sure you have mobile phone numbers in your contacts book and are following those people on the relevant social network. Try to anticipate where you will be needed most – where will the gaps in coverage be?
  • Don’t just cover the event on the day – build up to it and plan for the aftermath. Walk round the route to plan for the event – and post a photoblog while you’re at it. Interview key participants for profiles while you make contact. Join online forums and Facebook groups and engage with discussions on key issues.

2. An industry conference

Whether you’re reporting on a particular location or a shared interest there will be industries that play a key role in that. And industries have conferences. Use a quick Google search or some of the specialist events listing and organisation services like Exhibitions.co.uk to find them.

Issues to consider:

  • Industries have jargon. Try to familiarise yourself with that ahead of time (follow the specialist press and key figures on social media) or you’ll mis-hear key words and phrases.
  • There are often different events happening at the same time. Plan your schedule so you know where your priorities are.
  • Don’t follow the crowd. Often you will add more value by missing a session in order to conduct an interview or post some deeper analysis. This will also require preparation: organise to meet key individuals ahead of time; read up on the key issues.
  • As above, you’ll also need to know what’s going to be covered well and who’s going to be publishing online at the event. Build-ups will also be useful.

3. A meeting

Council or board meetings, hearings, committees and other public and semi-public meetings often have significant implications for local communities, sections of society or particular industries. They are also often poorly covered. This provides a real opportunity for enterprising individuals to add value to their readership.

In addition, there are more informal meetings of small groups which you can find on sites such as Upcoming and Eventbrite.

Issues to consider:

  • These meetings can easily pass under the radar so make sure you know when they’re taking place. For council meetings, Openly Local’s listings are particularly useful.
  • Many meetings have to publish their minutes – keep up to date with these (ask for them if you have to – use the Freedom of Information Act if you cannot get them any other way) so you know the background.
  • Know who’s who – and make sure you know which is which. Write down their names and where they’re sitting so you can attribute quotes correctly.
  • Prepare for nothing much to happen, most of the time. Concentration is key: newsworthy nuggets will be hidden in dull proceedings – and they won’t be clearly signposted. One advantage of liveblogging is that others can bring your attention to issues you might miss in the flow of reporting.

4. The build up to an event

Anticipation of an event can be an event in itself. The Birmingham Mail’s Friday afternoon liveblogs previewing the weekend’s football fixture are a particularly successful example of this. Really, this is a live chat, with the liveblog format providing the editorial urgency to give it a news twist.

Issues to consider:

  • Have prompts ready to get things started and inject new momentum when conversation dries up – prepare as you would for an interview, only with 100 possible interviewees.
  • Anticipate the main questions and have key facts and links to hand.
  • Get the tone right: can you have a bit of banter? It might be worth preparing a joke or two, or looking for opportunities to make them.

5. Breaking news

While you cannot plan for the exact timing of breaking news, you can prepare for some news events. At the most basic level, you should know how to quickly launch a liveblog once you know you need to do so. Other issues to consider:

6. Your own journey

You don’t need someone else to organise something for you to start a liveblog: you can do something yourself, and liveblog your progress. Considerations:

  • Ideally it should be something with a beginning, a middle and an end over a limited period of time: running a marathon, for example (if you can hold the mobile phone), or collecting 1,000 signatures for a campaign.
  • It should also involve others: the liveblog format lends itself to outside contributions.
  • You’ll have to work harder to make it interesting, so don’t update unless something has changed, and prepare material so you have interesting things to fill the gaps with.

7. A press conference

A familiar sight on 24 hour news channels, press conferences are an obvious candidate for liveblog treatment. You can also add to this similar political events such as the Budget, debates, or Prime Minister’s Questions. The main consideration is that you will be covering the conference alongside other journalists, so your coverage needs to be distinctive. Here are some things to consider:

  • Controlled as they are, press conferences don’t often generate a constant supply of newsworthy quotes, so when a spokesperson is trotting out platitudes or steering questions back to the particular angle she wants to sell, tell us about other things going on in the room: how is the journalist reacting? What is the PR rep doing?
  • If the situation is likely to be tightly controlled, you have a better chance of predicting what will be said, and to prepare for that. In particular, if a person is going to try to ‘spin’ facts in a particular direction, have the facts and evidence ready to ‘unspin’ them – as always, including links.
  • If you want to use one of your question opportunities to give your audience a voice, do so.
  • Likewise, tap into the wit and intelligence of users to liveblog their reactions outside the room to the questions and answers being exchanged inside.

8. A staged event

A liveblog is an obvious choice for a live event, and there are plenty of sporting and cultural events to cover. The obvious candidates – football matches, popular Olympic events – should be avoided, as existing and live coverage will be more than sufficient, so look to less well-covered sports, concerts, performances, fashion shows, exhibitions and other events. Think about:

  • Be aware of rights deals and other restrictions. Live coverages of certain popular sports, such as Premiership football, may be limited. There may be restrictions on taking photographs of cultural events, or recording audio or video at a music event.
  • As with meetings (above) it’s crucial to know who’s who and have a crib sheet of related facts.
  • Be descriptive and engage the senses. Tell us about the atmosphere, smells, sounds, and other elements that make people feel like they’re there.

9. A launch or opening

Product launches and store opening can be very dull affairs, but occasionally generate significant interest – particularly among technology and fashion fans. The interest doesn’t generally make for a sustained news event, so your liveblog is likely to be use that interest as the basis for some broader editorial angles. The tips on a ‘build up to an event’ above, apply again here, as that is essentially what this is, with the following differences:

  • Launches and openings are social gatherings, so try focusing on the people there: interview them, paint a picture of how diverse or similar they are. Tap into their expertise or enthusiasm; work with them.
  • Think about what people might want to know after the launch/opening: tips and tricks on using new technology? The items that are flying off the shelves? Have experts and inside sources on call.

10. Add your own here

Like blogging generally, liveblogs are just a platform, with the flexibility to adapt to a range of circumstances. If Popjustice can liveblog “Things we can learn from Greg James’ interview with Lady Gaga” then you can liveblog anything. If you’ve used them for a purpose not listed here, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Likewise, if you have any tips to add from your own experiences of covering events, please add them in the comments.

September 13 2011

21:30

Censorship Prevails in 'New' Burma, Despite Reform Talk

BANGKOK -- A handful of protestors gathered outside the Burmese embassy in Bangkok last Friday to vent their anger against the detention of 17 journalists in Burma, some of whom have been given multiple-decade jail terms for what activists describe as "no more than doing their jobs."

The jailed reporters worked for Democratic Voice of Burma, a Burmese media organization with personnel in Norway and Thailand. Decades of military rule in Burma incorporates vice-like press controls, and though these have been loosened of late, there are questions over whether this apparent liberalization is anything more than rhetorical.

Those questions are highlighted by the case of Hla Hla Win, a 27-year-old DVB reporter sentenced to 27 years in jail for breaching motorbike rules and shooting video. DVB Chief Editor Aye Chaing Naing said, "There is no legal justification to arrest Hla Hla Win, and she should not have been arrested in the first place."

Talk, but no walk on reform

Hla Hla Win and the 16 other DVB reporters are among what the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners -- a Thailand-based organization staffed by ex-political prisoners from Burma -- calculates to be 1,995 political prisoners or prisoners of conscience still in jail in Burma. The Burmese government claims all the country's incarcerated are criminals, including the hundreds of Buddhist monks rounded up after the 2007 Saffron uprising against military rule. The continued detention of almost 2,000 political prisoners highlights what activists believe to be a sham transition from military rule to democracy. Former political prisoner Nyi Nyi Aung, now in the United States, told me that the failure to release the detainees shows the insincerity of the Burmese rulers. "They don't want to make any reform in Burma," he said.

Burma held elections in November 2010, the first since 1990, though the result was a predictable landslide for the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). When the post-election government was formed, ex-army men made up 26 of the 30 government ministers. Journalists have been given controlled-environment access to the recently convened Parliament, but on the condition that they avoid reporting in a manner damaging to the "dignity of the Parliament and the State."

In another apparent loosening of the press control spigot, an article by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, recounting her recent trip to Bagan -- a temple-laden city in north-central Burma -- was allowed to be published in a Burmese journal called "The People's Era." As ever, there was a caveat. It went to press only after much of the Nobel Peace laureate's submitted content was chopped by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), the official name for the state censor.

Leaked diplomatic cables give startling picture

Unlike some other authoritarian states, Burma has a thriving private-run media and, according to one of a cache of recently leaked U.S. diplomatic cables sent from the country's Rangoon embassy, "the number of weekly newspapers has gone from just a handful 10 years ago to approximately 150 today." That said, most of the growth is in non-controversial areas "like sports and entertainment," lacking what the cable terms "hard news about events in Burma or the outside world."

Covering Suu Kyi has long been a tricky topic for Burmese publications, with the journal Messenger banned from publishing its supplement section for a week by the PSRD. Shiwei Yei is the Southeast Asia point-man for the International Federation for Human Rights. He told me that this is likely to be "related to the journal's recent interview of Suu Kyi and the front-page photo of her."

While bread-and-circus stories about soap operas and sports can, for the most part, now be run without prior vetting by the censors, political stories are subject to word-by-word examination, meaning that critical or investigative coverage of the country's government cannot be undertaken.

According to U.S. embassy officials, writing in a cable sent before Burma's 2010 elections, the censor bans "20-25 percent of all stories in a given periodical." Burma's poorly paid reporters have a pocket incentive to keep within the censor's limits.

"Because Burmese reporters tend to get paid only for the stories that make it into the newspaper, self-censorship is prevalent," according to the same cable. As for the new media regime, some say it merely "encourages more self-censorship as publishers become less certain of what content is acceptable to the authorities," as Amy Sim of London-based Article 19 told me.

Government still promising reform

DSC_0069.JPG

Still, the Burmese government is talking the talk on reform. An April 2011 parliamentary speech by President Thein Sein, describing media as the "fourth pillar" of Burmese society, was followed by other apparent liberalizations such as the watering-down -- for now at least -- of clumsy propaganda against foreign media by the much-lampooned New Light of Myanmar. In the past, this Burmese government mouthpiece panned DVB, along with BBC and VOA, with thick-tongued insults such as "killer broadcasts designed to cause troubles."

However, the new president -- who was an army general and prime minister under the pre-election military dictatorship -- tempered his fourth estate spin by giving Burma's MPs the enigmatic yet ominous-sounding missive that they were "required through media to inform the people about what they should know."

A new fish-in-the-barrel target for satirists might be the Burmese information czar, Kyaw Hsan, who followed up a much-derided tearful breakdown at a recent government press conference -- itself a novelty in Burma -- by describing media as "red ants" in a parliamentary debate on Sept. 7, held in Burma's purpose-built but isolated administrative capital Naypyidaw. To some, Kyaw Hsan's speech means little more than the same old restrictions garnished with some unintentionally entertaining rhetoric. "He thinks that the country is not ready for press freedom," said Zin Linn, of the Thailand-based Burma Media Association.

In his eyebrow-raising and quixotic response to a much-needed and overdue parliamentary proposal on press freedom, the minister of information said it would bring "more disadvantages than advantages," before launching into a half-hour speech which quoted from the ancient "550 Jataka Tales" and its fable of the elephant king Saddan. In the tale, the king offered flowers (press freedom) to his queen, but the flowers attracted red ants (journalists), which bit the queen.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, South China Morning Post and others. He is on twitter @simonroughneen and you can Circle him on Google+.

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July 18 2011

19:05

Social Media Plays Major Role in Motivating Malaysian Protesters

Less than a week after Malaysian police fired teargas and water cannons at thousands of demonstrators seeking reform of the country's electoral system, a Facebook petition calling on Prime Minister Najib Razak to quit has drawn almost 200,000 backers, highlighting the role of social and new media in Malaysia's restrictive free speech environment.

One contributor to the page wrote: "The world is full of multimedia and electronics; the things we so call camera and videocam ... And photos and videos were already being uploaded on the Internet but 'it' still denies the truth and makes stories and lies until today."

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in motivating some of the demonstrators in the run-up to the rally, which went ahead despite a police ban and lockdown imposed on sprawling Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the July 9 protest.

The demonstration organizer, Bersih 2.0 -- a coalition of 63 NGOs (non-government organizations) that wants changes such as updated electoral rolls and a longer election campaign period -- has its own Facebook page, attracting a similar number of "likes" as the page urging Najib to step down, with 190,000+ fans at the time of this posting.

The latest notable update is another petition, requesting 100,000 backers for a Bersih 3.0 -- although organization head Ambiga Sreenavasan has said she does not foresee any similar protests in the immediate future.

Clearing Distorted coverage

Along with online news sites such as Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today, social networks have helped get around partisan coverage by newspapers close to the government, where accounts of the rally did not square with what I witnessed.

malaysiaprotest-2-sroughneen.jpg

Coverage in Utusan, the pro-government Malay-language daily and best-selling print newspaper in Malaysia, was explicitly hostile to the protest and has remained so in the days since. Just this week, the paper came out with an editorial claiming that Jewish groups would use the opposition to infiltrate the Muslim country. The day after the rally, the front page of the English-language New Straits Times (NST) showed a single protestor, face covered with a scarf, looking set to hurl something at someone or something, minus the surrounding street scene.

The photo was headlined "Peaceful?" and was devoid of context, the implication being that Kuala Lumpur was beset by thousands of other would-be anarchists on July 9 and the police acted with heroic restraint in the face of relentless provocation. The NST is linked to Malaysia's main governing party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has ruled uninterrupted since independence in 1957.

As observed at several locations around the city center, the protest was peaceful, multi-ethnic (Malaysia's demographic breakdown is two-thirds ethnic Malays, a quarter ethnic Chinese, and the remainder mainly Indian/Tamil), though it was impossible to know how many in the gathering were affiliated with the country's opposition political parties versus how many were ordinary, disgruntled Malaysians who were galvanized into action by Bersih's exhortations.

With police roadblocks and checks emptying the usually bustling city by Friday evening, the only other people on the streets on Saturday morning -- before the demonstrators' emergence -- were expectant journalists and lost-looking tourists. When the protestors came onto the streets, the police wasted little time in firing teargas into the crowds gathering at various locations in an attempt to march to the Merdeka (Victory) Stadium, where the country declared its independence from Great Britain.

Despite allegations of police aiming tear gas or water cannons directly at protestors or at a hospital in the city, print newspapers praised the police response, as did the government. That, in turn, has drawn criticism from Malaysia's online news sites.

Laws cast a chill

However, even if individual journalists or publications wanted to take an objective line with this story, Malaysia's press laws act as an effective deterrent.

malaysiaprotest-1-sroughneen.jpg

Self-censorship is prevalent, said Siew Eng of the Centre for Independent Journalism, who added that "print coverage of the organizers [of the Bersih 2.0 rally] has been demonizing them for weeks now."

The main deterrent seems to be the country's 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), which means that publishers and printing firms need an annual operations permit, with the added stipulation that the prime minister can revoke licenses at any time without judicial review.

Jacqueline Surin is editor of The Nut Graph, one of the online alternatives to the older print news establishments in Malaysia. Getting out from under the government's thumb was a prime motivation for her.

"I worked for more than 10 years in the traditional, government-controlled press. We knew what it was like to have constant government and corporate interference in the newsroom," she said.

Article 10 of Malaysia's constitution upholds freedom of expression, but in effect this right is curtailed by a range of antiquated and Orwellian-sounding laws. The colonial-hangover Sedition Act, the Internal Security Act (ISA) and emergency laws are used regularly to impose restrictions on the press and other critics. One well-known case is that of Raja Petra Kamaruddin, founder of the website Malaysia Today. After allegedly insulting Islam, the majority religion in Malaysia, he was charged under the 1948 Sedition Act, and was accused of defamation, in a case seen as politically motivated.

High Urban Net Usage

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, there are 16.1 million Internet users in Malaysia, out of a population of 27 million. There is a sharp town-country divide, however, with 80 percent of the country's web users being urban-based. That said, the Internet gives Malaysians some freedom of expression, away from the tight controls and implicit intimidation that hampers the older print media outlets. In the days since the Bersih 2.0 rally, many tweets and blogs from Malaysians have said trust in the country's print media has declined, or is now non-existent.

Online media outlets unhindered by the PPPA have helped give Malaysians a fuller and more objective image of what went on July 9. "The police have said that only 6,000 people turned up for the Bersih 2.0 rally and that there was no police aggression," according to Surin. "There are enough pictures and videos already out there, even before the traditional media could report them, that demonstrate that the police/state are clearly misrepresenting the truth."

How long this will last remains to be seen. Siew Eng told me that "there are moves to amend the laws for the Internet and online media in Malaysia," citing a recently established cross-ministry committee set up by the government to look into the issue.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, ISN, South China Morning Post and others. He is a radio correspondent affiliated with Global Radio News and has reported for RTÉ, BBC, CBS, CBC Canada, Fox News, and Voice of America. He has worked in and reported from over 30 countries.

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February 24 2011

13:00

Matt Wells on The Guardian’s interactive protests Twitter map

Twitter network of Arab protests - interactive map | World news | guardian.co.uk

Twitter network of Arab protests - interactive map | guardian.co.uk

The Guardian have published an impressive map displaying Twitter coverage of protests around the Arab world and the Middle East. I asked Matt Wells, who oversaw the project, to explain how it came about.

The initial idea, which I should credit to deputy editor Ian Katz, was to build something that showcased the tweets of our correspondents, along a broader network of vetted tweeters in different countries. We wanted to connect all of these on a map, so you could click on a country and see relevant live-updating tweets.

I was asked to oversee it. The main thing was to check out the best English-language tweeters in each country – preferably people who appeared reliable, who were involved in first-hand reporting themselves, and who did a lot of retweeting of others.

I started by asking our correspondents who they followed, then broadened it out from there. We asked everyone if they minded being included – we had one refusal from a Tweeter in a particularly authoritartian country who was worried about the exposure. Everyone else thought it was a great idea.

Meanwhile one of our developers, Garry Blight, overseen by Alastair Dant, set about building it. As with anything of this kind, it took a bit longer than orginally anticipated, but we had it ready on the day that Mubarak fell. And brilliantly, it has worked for every country since then.

It’s powered by a Google spreadsheet – so it’s really easy to add new people and to attach them to particular countries or search terms.

And it should be very easily adaptable for other news events around the world.

February 15 2011

15:48

Will the Next Revolution be Stroomed?

When you think of the recent unrest in the Middle East, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube immediately come to mind.

Yet in an era where the revolution no longer need be televised -- now it's tweeted -- wouldn't a collaborative online video editing platform that allows producers, correspondents and reporters to create news reports in real time be a welcome addition to the insurgents' arsenal?

Well, such a tool does exist. It's called Stroome. And in a time when the journalist's traditional role -- to build and curate an informed public -- is rapidly eroding as citizens now are able to inform themselves and one another, is it possible that video will soon replace text as the central means of communication? Could it be that the next revolution will be Stroomed?

An Email Exchange

It turns out, the idea just might not be as far-fetched as you'd think:

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 07:23:15 -0600 Subject: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Hello Stroome team,

Would like to thank you first for a great application and social network your team has created.

I work for a non-profit organization with a mission to enable young people from the West and predominantly Muslim societies to have cross-cultural dialogues using new media technologies.

[H]ow can [we] include Stroome within our online community?

And so began the email that Stroome co-founder Nonny de la Pena and I received the morning of January 20, 2011.

The sender's name was WilYaWil, and his request was simple: Would we work with his organization to facilitate dialogue between students with diverse backgrounds from around the world?

Considering collaboration is at the center of the Stroome experience, the connection was a no-brainer. Skype addresses were exchanged; a call was set for the following Wednesday.

Revolution Intervenes

But just minutes before the call was to take place, we received a second email from WilYaWil. Our conversation, it seemed, would need to be postponed:

Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2011 03:45:01 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Tom, sorry for the late reply. I hope we can postpone our meeting today. I'm in Egypt and we are living in exciting times with the start of freedom protests yesterday in Cairo and other cities around Egypt. I will be taking part today. I apologize for the short notice. I will get in touch with you and Nonny again on Friday to reschedule.

Frankly, I thought little of it. There was little in the tone of WilYaWil's email to foreshadow the extraordinary events that were about to unfold.

As it turns out, I had very much misread the situation.

The following morning, I -- along with the world -- woke up to an Egypt in crisis. This was more than simply an "exciting time." This was a revolution. Or at least it certainly had the makings of one.

By day's end, a third email arrived, and we learned -- again, just as the world was learning -- that the Egyptian government had blocked Twitter and Facebook.

Egypt screenshot.jpg

Nonny quickly sprang into action. A group titled "Egypt Protests" was created on Stroome. Open access was granted so that anyone could upload and edit their first-person video accounts of the protests. And the participants on the email thread were notified immediately.

Internet Shutdown

Unfortunately, our impromptu workaround was thwarted when the Egyptian government shut down Internet access to the entire country. And while President Mubarak's decision to plunge some 80 million Egyptians into the 21st-century of equivalent of "radio silence" would last nearly five days, it would be over a week before we heard from WilYaWil.

Then on Wednesday, February 9 -- almost three weeks to the day from our first correspondence -- WilYaWil resurfaced. Again, his tone was upbeat:

Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2011 13:21:00 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Hi Thomas and Nonny,

We are living in an exciting time here in Egypt. I've started using Stroome already, I've uploaded the videos I shot on Friday 28th January, I hope others find it useful and can remix it.

I would like us to meet soon so that we can discuss how [we] could work together. We can meet tomorrow or Friday anytime between 8pm - 10pm CLT / 10am - 12 noon LA time.

And while we had no way of knowing at the time, history was once again about to find a way of encroaching on our plans.

Thirty minutes before we were scheduled to connect with WilYaWil on Friday morning, CNN reported that Hosni Mubarak was going to make it formal: After more than 30 years in power, the Egyptian president was stepping down. Considering the momentous nature of the announcement, naturally I assumed the call would be pushed back once again.

Suddenly, the familiar "bing, bing, bing" signaling an incoming Skype call could be heard as a cartoon avatar of a young man wearing a pair of horned-rimmed glasses and neatly cropped brown hair appeared on my screen.

"This is a remarkable tool," WilYaWil said of Stroome, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. "The ability to collaborate and work together with video. No one is doing it. It's revolutionary. It's going to change things."

He was so passionate, so imbued with a renewed sense of purpose, so in the moment and excited about those "exciting times" in which he was living that I honestly think WilYaWil failed to grasp the irony of the words he'd just uttered.

I, on the other hand, caught every drop of it.

To see some of WilYaWil's Egyptian video uploads, register at Stroome.com and type "Egypt" into the search bar.

If you would like to follow WilYaWil's Twitter feed click here

February 03 2011

21:45

Social Media Alone Do Not Instigate Revolutions

This post was also written by Sean Noonan for STRATFOR.

Internet services were reportedly restored in Egypt yesterday after being completely shut down for two days. Egyptian authorities unplugged the last Internet service provider (ISP) still operating Jan. 31 amidst ongoing protests across the country. The other four providers in Egypt -- Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr -- were shut down as the crisis boiled over on Jan. 27. Commentators immediately assumed this was a response to the organizational capabilities of social media websites that Cairo could not completely block from public access.

The role of social media in protests and revolutions has garnered considerable media attention in recent years. Current conventional wisdom has it that social networks have made regime change easier to organize and execute. An underlying assumption is that social media is making it more difficult to sustain an authoritarian regime -- even for hardened autocracies like Iran and Myanmar -- which could usher in a new wave of democratization around the globe. In a Jan. 27 YouTube interview, U.S. President Barack Obama went as far as to compare social networking to universal liberties such as freedom of speech.

Social media alone, however, do not instigate revolutions. They are no more responsible for the recent unrest in Tunisia and Egypt than cassette-tape recordings of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini speeches were responsible for the 1979 revolution in Iran. Social media are tools that allow revolutionary groups to lower the costs of participation, organization, recruitment and training. But like any tool, social media have inherent weaknesses and strengths, and their effectiveness depends on how effectively leaders use them and how accessible they are to people who know how to use them.

How to Use Social Media

moldova twitter.jpg

The situations in Tunisia and Egypt have both seen an increased use of social networking media such as Facebook and Twitter to help organize, communicate and ultimately initiate civil-disobedience campaigns and street actions. The Iranian "Green Revolution" in 2009 was closely followed by the Western media via YouTube and Twitter, and the latter even gave Moldova's 2009 revolution its moniker, the "Twitter Revolution."

Foreign observers -- and particularly the media -- are mesmerized by the ability to track events and cover diverse locations, perspectives and demographics in real time. But a revolution is far more than what we see and hear on the Internet -- it requires organization, funding and mass appeal. Social media no doubt offer advantages in disseminating messages quickly and broadly, but they also are vulnerable to government counter-protest tactics (more on these below). And while the effectiveness of the tool depends on the quality of a movement's leadership, a dependence on social media can actually prevent good leadership from developing.

The key for any protest movement is to inspire and motivate individuals to go from the comfort of their homes to the chaos of the streets and face off against the government. Social media allow organizers to involve like-minded people in a movement at a very low cost, but they do not necessarily make these people move. Instead of attending meetings, workshops and rallies, uncommitted individuals can join a Facebook group or follow a Twitter feed at home, which gives them some measure of anonymity (though authorities can easily track IP addresses) but does not necessarily motivate them to physically hit the streets and provide fuel for a revolution. At the end of the day, for a social media-driven protest movement to be successful, it has to translate social media membership into street action.

The Internet allows a revolutionary core to widely spread not just its ideological message but also its training program and operational plan. This can be done by email, but social media broaden the exposure and increase its speed increases, with networks of friends and associates sharing the information instantly. YouTube videos explaining a movement's core principles and tactics allow cadres to transmit important information to dispersed followers without having to travel. (This is safer and more cost effective for a movement struggling to find funding and stay under the radar, but the level of training it can provide is limited. Some things are difficult to learn by video, which presents the same problems for protest organizers as those confronted by grassroots jihadists, who must rely largely on the Internet for communication.) Social media can also allow a movement to be far more nimble about choosing its day of action and, when that day comes, to spread the action order like wildfire. Instead of organizing campaigns around fixed dates, protest movements can reach hundreds of thousands of adherents with a single Facebook post or Twitter feed, launching a massive call to action in seconds.

With lower organizational and communications costs, a movement can depend less on outside funding, which also allows it to create the perception of being a purely indigenous movement (without foreign supporters) and one with wide appeal. According to the event's Facebook page, the April 6 Movement in Egypt had some 89,250 people claiming attendance at a Jan. 28 protest when, in fact, a much smaller number of protestors were actually there according to STRATFOR's estimates. The April 6 Movement is made up of the minority of Egyptians who have Internet access, which the OpenNet Initiative estimated in August 2009 to be 15.4 percent of the population. While this is ahead of most African countries, it is behind most Middle Eastern countries. Internet penetration rates in countries like Iran and Qatar are around 35 percent, still a minority of the population.

Eventually, a successful revolutionary movement has to appeal to the middle class, the working class, retirees and rural segments of the population, groups that are unlikely to have Internet access in most developing countries. Otherwise, a movement could quickly find itself unable to control the revolutionary forces it unleashed or being accused by the regime of being an unrepresentative fringe movement. This may have been the same problem that Iranian protesters experienced in 2009.

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Not only must protest organizers expand their base beyond Internet users, they must also be able to work around government disruption. Following the Internet shutdown in Egypt, protesters were able to distribute hard-copy tactical pamphlets and use faxes and landline telephones for communications. Ingenuity and leadership quickly become more important than social media when the government begins to use counter-protest tactics, which are well developed even in the most closed countries.

Countering Social Media

Like any other tool, social media have their drawbacks. Lowering the costs of communication also diminishes operational security. Facebook messages can be open for all to see, and even private messages can be viewed by authorities through search warrants in more open countries or pressure on the Internet social media firms in more closed ones. Indeed, social media can quickly turn into a valuable intelligence-collection tool. A reliance on social media can also be exploited by a regime willing to cut the country off from Internet or domestic text messaging networks altogether, as has been the case in Egypt.

The capability of governments to monitor and counteract social media developed alongside the capability of their intelligence services. In order to obtain an operating license in any country, social networking websites have to come to some sort of agreement with the government. In many countries, this involves getting access to user data, locations and network information. Facebook profiles, for example, can be a boon for government intelligence collectors, who can use updates and photos to pinpoint movement locations and activities and identify connections among various individuals, some of whom may be suspect for various activities. (Facebook has received funding from In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital firm, and many Western intelligence services have start-up budgets to develop Internet technologies that will enable even deeper mining of Internet-user data.)

In using social media, the tradeoff for protest leaders is that they must expose themselves to disseminate their message to the masses (although there are ways to mask IP addresses and avoid government monitoring, such as by using proxy servers). Keeping track of every individual who visits a protest organization's website page may be beyond the capabilities of many security services, depending on a site's popularity, but a medium designed to reach the masses is open to everyone. In Egypt, almost 40 leaders of the April 6 Movement were arrested early on in the protests, and this may have been possible by identifying and locating them through their Internet activities, particularly through their various Facebook pages.

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Indeed, one of the first organizers of the April 6 Movement became known in Egypt as "Facebook Girl" following her arrest in Cairo on April 6, 2008. The movement was originally organized to support a labor protest that day in Mahalla, and organizer Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid found Facebook a convenient way to organize demonstrations from the safety of her home. Her release from prison was an emotional event broadcast on Egyptian TV, which depicted her and her mother crying and hugging. Rashid was then expelled from the group and no longer knows the password for accessing the April 6 Facebook page. One fellow organizer called her "chicken" for saying she would not have organized the protest if she had thought she would be arrested. Rashid's story is a good example of the challenges posed by using social media as a tool for mobilizing a protest. It is easy to "like" something or someone on Facebook, but it is much harder to organize a protest on the street where some participants will likely be arrested, injured or killed.

Beyond monitoring movement websites, governments can also shut them down. This has been common in Iran and China during times of social unrest. But blocking access to a particular website cannot stop tech-savvy Internet users employing virtual private networks or other technologies to access unbanned IP addresses outside the country in order to access banned sites. In response to this problem, China shut down Internet access to all of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the location of ethnic Uighur riots in July 2009. More recently, Egypt followed the same tactic for the entire country. Like many countries, Egypt has contracts with Internet service providers that allow the government to turn the Internet off or, when service providers are state-owned, to make life difficult for Internet-based organizers.

Regimes can also use social media for their own purposes. One counter-protest tactic is to spread disinformation, whether it is to scare away protesters or lure them all to one location where anti-riot police lie in wait. We have not yet witnessed such a government "ambush" tactic, but its use is inevitable in the age of Internet anonymity. Government agents in many countries have become quite proficient at trolling the Internet in search of pedophiles and wannabe terrorists. (Of course, such tactics can be used by both sides. During the Iranian protests in 2009, many foreign-based Green Movement supporters spread disinformation over Twitter to mislead foreign observers.)

The most effective way for the government to use social media is to monitor what protest organizers are telling their adherents either directly over the Internet or by inserting an informant into the group, counteracting the protesters wherever and whenever they assemble. Authorities monitoring protests at World Trade Organization and G-8 meetings as well as the Republican and Democratic national conventions in the United States have used this successfully. Over the past two years in Egypt, the April 6 Movement has found the police ready and waiting at every protest location. Only in recent weeks has popular support grown to the point where the movement has presented a serious challenge to the security services.

One of the biggest challenges for security services is to keep up with the rapidly changing Internet. In Iran, the regime quickly shut down Facebook but not Twitter, not realizing the latter's capabilities. If social media are presenting a demonstrable threat to governments, it could become vital for security services to continually refine and update plans for disrupting new Internet technology.

Quality of Leadership vs. Cost of Participation

There is no denying that social media represent an important tool for protest movements to effectively mobilize their adherents and communicate their message. As noted above, however, the effectiveness of the tool depends on its user, and an overreliance can become a serious detriment.

One way it can hurt a movement is in the evolution of its leadership. To lead a protest movement effectively, an organization's leadership has to venture outside of cyberspace. It has to learn what it means to face off against a regime's counterintelligence capabilities in more than just the virtual world. By holding workshops and mingling among the populace, the core leadership of a movement learns the different strategies that work best with different social strata and how to appeal to a broad audience. Essentially, leaders of a movement that exploits the use of social media must take the same risks as those of groups that lack such networking capability. The convenience and partial anonymity of social media can decrease the motivation of a leader to get outside and make things happen.

Moreover, a leadership grounded in physical reality is one that constructs and sticks to a concerted plan of action. The problem with social media is that they subvert the leadership of a movement while opening it to a broader membership. This means that a call for action may spread like wildfire before a movement is sufficiently prepared, which can put its survival in danger. In many ways, the Iranian Green Revolution is a perfect example of this. The call for action brought a self-selected group of largely educated urban youth to protest in the streets, where the regime cracked down harshly on a movement it believed was not broad enough to constitute a real threat.

A leadership too reliant on social media can also become isolated from alternative political movements with which it may share the common goal of regime change. This is especially the case when other movements are not "youth movements" and therefore are not as tech savvy. This can create serious problems once the revolution is successful and an interim government needs to be created. The Serbian Otpor (Resistance) movement was successful in the 2000 Serbian democratic revolution precisely because it managed to bring together a disparate opposition of pro-Western and nationalist forces. But to facilitate such coalition building, leaders have to step away from computers and cell phones and into factories, rice paddies and watering holes they normally would never want to enter. This is difficult to do during a revolution, when things are in flux and public suspicion is high, especially of those who claim to be leading a revolution.

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Even when a media-savvy leader has a clear plan, he or she may not be successful. For instance, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand and telecommunications magnate, has used his skills to hold video conference calls with stadiums full of supporters, and launched two massive waves of protests involving some 100,000 supporters against the Thai government in April 2009 and April and May 2010, yet he still has not succeeded in taking power. He remains a disembodied voice, capable of rocking the boat but incapable of taking its helm.

Simply a Convenience

Shutting down the Internet did not reduce the numbers of Egyptian protesters in the streets. In fact, the protests only grew bigger as websites were shut down and the Internet was turned off. If the right conditions exist a revolution can occur, and social media do not seem to change that. Just because an Internet-based group exists does not make it popular or a threat. There are Facebook groups, YouTube videos and Twitter posts about everything, but that does not make them popular. A neo-Nazi skinhead posting from his mother's basement in Illinois is not going to start a revolution in the United States, no matter how many Internet posts he makes or what he says. The climate must be ripe for revolution, due to problems like inflation, deflation, food shortages, corruption and oppression, and the population must be motivated to mobilize. Representing a new medium with dangers as well as benefits, social media do not create protest movements; they only allow members of such movements to communicate more easily.

Other technologies like short-wave radio, which can also be used to communicate and mobilize, have been available to protesters and revolutionaries for a long time. In reality, so has the Internet, which is the fundamental technological development that allows for quick and widespread communications. The popularity of social media, one of many outgrowths of the Internet, may actually be isolated to international media observation from afar. We can now watch protest developments in real time, instead of after all the reports have been filed and printed in the next day's newspaper or broadcast on the nightly news. Western perceptions are often easily swayed by English-speaking, media-savvy protestors who may be only a small fraction of a country's population. This is further magnified in authoritarian countries where Western media have no choice but to turn to Twitter and YouTube to report on the crisis, thus increasing the perceived importance of social media.

In the Middle East, where Internet penetration is below 35 percent (with the exception of Israel), if a movement grows large enough to effect change it will have been joined through word of mouth, not through social networking. Still, the expansion of Internet connectivity does create new challenges for domestic leaders who have proved more than capable of controlling older forms of communication. This is not an insurmountable challenge, as China has shown, but even in China's case there is growing anxiety about the ability of Internet users to evade controls and spread forbidden information.

Social media represent only one tool among many for an opposition group to employ. Protest movements are rarely successful if led from somebody's basement in a virtual arena. Their leaders must have charisma and street smarts, just like leaders of any organization. A revolutionary group cannot rely on its most tech-savvy leaders to ultimately launch a successful revolution any more than a business can depend on the IT department to sell its product. It is part of the overall strategy, but it cannot be the sole strategy.

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This story originally ran on STRATFOR's site under the headline Social Media as a Tool for Protest, and is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Image of Moldova protest sign outside UN by Dan Patterson via Flickr.

Image of tanks in Egypt by Beacon Radio via Flickr.

Image of Thaksin Shinawatra from www.kremlin.ru via Wikipedia.

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18:24

Social Media, Facebook Help People Stand Up in Tunisia, Egypt

Even though they're far away from the center of the action in Cairo, Chinese web users felt the impact of the current demonstrations and political change afoot in Egypt. Chinese users searching for "Egypt" on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, came up empty, and 467 sites were reported inaccessible after a call for a "march of a million" was issued in Cairo days ago.

For roughly a week now, the journalists and bloggers spreading information about the situation in Egypt have been harassed been by the military. Yesterday and today saw the worst outbreak of violence against journalists yet, as evidenced by this video of CNN's Anderson Cooper and crew being attacked by a crowd:

Plus, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and ABC News staffers were attacked too. As of this morning, reports have been flowing on Twitter and in the mainstream press that journalists are being detained by the regime, while the physical attacks on them continue in streets and hotels.

Serge Dumont, a Belgian reporter, has even been arrested and accused of spying. What started with relatively peaceful demonstrations has turned into a violent and deadly case of repression by government -- and it is playing out in real-time thanks to social media and television.

Tunisia: End Of Info Repression

The demonstrations and political fallout in Egypt are reminiscent of what began on December 17 in Tunisia, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a young fruit vendor, set himself on fire in an act of protest. But one important difference between Egypt and Tunisia is that official media in the latter did not cover the event, and journalists were harassed when trying to get to the city of Sidi Bouzid.


5367417272_ddd33cd5a1_m.jpgIn Tunisia, the official media blackout was challenged by amateur video and pictures, which often became the most important information coming out of the country. Soon, #SidiBouzid became a popular Twitter hashtag, and Facebook began filling with reports and infromation. The Internet was the place where pictures and videos of government repression were assembled for the world to see.



Finally, on January 13, Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country after a TV interview showed him to be nothing but a weak man in power. Three days later, the transitional government got rid of the Information Ministry and Slim Ammamou, a blogger who was released from prison just four days before, became Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.



During the Ben Ali regime, information was strictly controlled. All but three newspapers were controlled by the government and the cyber-police -- also called Ammar404 -- kept themselves busy by filtering opposition websites and installing surveillance systems in Internet cafes and email providers. The result was that Facebook become one of the only places where freedom of speech could flourish in Tunisia. (The regime attempted to block Facebook in 2008, but had to abort the idea.)

Forty percent of the population has access to the Internet in Tunisia. It was this group of connected citizens who demonstrated that online buzz and chatter can grab the attention of international media, and thereby help bring about change. Of course, this kind of political and social change is about people behaving bravely; but social media can help bring an issue to the attention of the international community.

The same can also be said for Egypt: Social media proved a powerful and constant source of reportage, but it was the people in the streets who stood up.

Al Jazeera Emerges

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On January 31, five foreign and Egyptian journalists from the pan-Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera were interrogated by the Egyptian military, and their equipment was confiscated. They were released, but the day before Egyptian authorities ordered the closure of the network's Cairo office. Al Jazeera denounced the move as an attempt to muzzle open reporting and urged Egyptians to send blog posts, eyewitness accounts and videos to get around the censorship.

Much in the same way that the Persian Gulf War was a defining moment for CNN, the uprising in Egypt has been something of a coming out party for Al Jazeera's English service. Its website has seen a 2,500 percent increase in web traffic, with a notable portion of that traffic coming from the U.S. That's quite a feat, since the vast majority of U.S. cable carriers do not offer Al Jazeera English. (You can see the Al Jazeera English live feed online here.)

While people around the world were watching the live stream of Al Jazeera's coverage, those in Egypt began reporting problems with their Internet connections on January 26. There were particular problems when attempting to access the online newspapers Al-Badil, Al-Dustour and Al-Masry Al-Youm. Access to Al-Badil and Al-Dustour was subsequently blocked altogether, while Al-Masry Al-Youm experienced major problems. A huge online blockade was reported the night of January 27, which also happened to be the day before a general call for a Friday protest.

Four local ISPs were forced to stop their services. Only Noor was still working before it shut down at 11:30 pm local time earlier this week. In order to prevent the disruption of their services, Google and Twitter now allow people to tweet just by making a phone call. Facebook, which was intermittently blocked, issued a statement condemning the Internet shutdown.

"Although the turmoil in Egypt is a matter for the Egyptian people and their government to resolve, limiting Internet access for millions of people is a matter of concern for the global community," said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes in a statement. "It is essential to communication and to commerce. No one should be denied access to the Internet."

Mobile Phones Disrupted

In terms of new technologies, the Internet wasn't the only target. The authorities began jamming mobile phone communications in locations where protesters gathered. Representatives of Vodafone and Mobile Nile denied any involvement in the disruption of service and placed the blame on Egyptian authorities. And today Vodaphone released a statement saying that the government also forced it to send messages over its network

Free Press, a U.S. non-profit organization working for media reform, has denounced one American company, Boeing-owned Narus of Sunnyvale, Calif, for its relationship with the government. It sold Egypt "Deep Packet Inspection" equipment that can be used to track, target and crush political dissent over the Internet and mobile phones. Before January 27, mobile phone services were disrupted only where the protesters gathered. But on the night between January 27 and 28, SMS and phone connections were interrupted and only partially reestablished on January 29.

As of this writing, news organizations are reporting that Internet access has been restored in Egypt, with Facebook and Twitter coming back online for the populace. This comes at a time when clashes in the streets have turned violent against citizens and journalists. With the Internet and social media back to normal, let's hope the same can soon be said for the Egyptian people.

This post was made possible thanks to the contributions of the Middle East and New Media desks of Reporters Without Borders.

Image of Tunisian demonstrators by magharebia via Flickr.

Image of Egypt demonstration by Beacon Radio via Flickr

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

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January 28 2011

23:05

What Role Did Social Media Play in Tunisia, Egypt Protests?

As the protests are playing out in the streets of Cairo and the rest of Egypt today, I have been glued to the live-stream of Al Jazeera English as well as the Twitter hashtag #Jan25, a top trending topic based on the big protests a few days ago. The Egyptian protests come on the heels of a similar revolution in Tunisia, where a longtime dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was ousted after young people organized protests via Facebook. We've heard about "Twitter revolutions" before in Iran after huge protests there in 2009, but how have things changed today? How much of a role has social media played in the turmoil happening in the Middle East? Will that continue to be the case? Vote in our poll below, or share your deeper thoughts in the comments below.




What role did social media play in Tunisia, Egypt protests?online surveys

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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October 14 2010

15:41

CrowdVoice: Tracking voices of protest

CrowdVoice.org is a user-powered service that tracks voices of protest from around the world by crowdsourcing information. The platform is open source and can be repurposed for any other cause. Here is a short video demonstrating its usage and potential.

We would really appreciate it if you can take a few moments and vote for our project at the FACT Social Justice Challenge! http://netsquared.org/projects/crowdvoice

You can find us listed on the first page here: http://netsquared.org/projectgallery

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