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Netsquared - the European Remix?

REMIXING THE WEB FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

I think Europe badly needs a Netsquared conference and online community, or something like it. NetSquared's mission is 'Remixing the Web for Social Change', and it does this though a framework that includes community blogging, case studies, major conferences and local monthly meetings. It has just held its second major conference , where 350 invited participants gathered to accelerate 21 Projects that were selected by the NetSquared community as having the greatest potential to leverage the social web to create social change.

NETSQUARED 2006: THE NEW WAVE

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first Netsquared conference, which was a buzzing mix of geeks, activists and tech philanthropists. For me, some highlights included Howard Rheingold discussing the way hispanic youth in LA used MySpace to organize against anti-immigrant legislation encountering the Genocide Intervention Network, which is such a good example of a web 2.0 enabled NGO start-up seeing Camp Darfur in Sercond Life and, of course, the workshop on Human Rights and New Communication Technologies where i was a presenter :) (MSNBC published a good overview of the first conference called Can Web 2.0 change the world?)

A NICHE FOR NETSQUARED EUROPE

Of course, there are already some great tech & society conferences in Europe. I recently did a workshop at the eCampaigning Forum which covers a lot of the key issues, but is very tightly focused on professional ecampaigners. I was also impressed by the LIFT conference which had a great diversity of content - but although they were kind enough to give us a platform the 2006 conference to talk about human rights & web 2.0 most of the event lacked any kind of activist edge.

THE SOCIAL-TECH SWEET SPOT

Those of us who have been part of the Netsquared experience can see the need for a similar incubator for web-enabled social change in the UK & Europe. The proposal is to establish project like Netsquared that hits the sweet spot at the overlap of technology & social innovation. The goals would be

  • To stimulate web-enabled social innovation
  • To create a an online-offline community for learning skills, sharing experiences and developing expertise
  • To sustain socially progressive activity through alternative business & organisational models

net2-website-02-2

STRATEGY & ACTIVISM

Creativity and innovation are fundamental to the social web, not least because it empowers initiative at the grassroots level through an architecture of participation. This is attracting a lot of interest and engagement from groups and networks with a social mission. A Netsquared Europe would be well-placed to channel this dynamic and support some strategic development of this field. Tapping in to European movements for social change would also bring a more activist strand to the event.

THE ORGANIZATIONAL QUESTION

The conference and community could also address 'the organizational question' i.e. the challenge that Web 2.0 raises for traditional NGOs and non-profits. The many dimensions of this challenge have been spelled out recently by Michael Gilbert in The Permeable Organization , Steve Bridger in Whose cause is it anyway? and Katrin Verclas in Online Communities Redux: Why They Matter to You. Perhaps, like the second Netsquared conference, it could aim to incubate a new generation of web-enabled non-profits that use new forms of organising to deliver more directly on their missions.

OPEN SOURCE DNA

Like many other radical innovations, Netsquared Europe will have open source embedded in its genes. Not only because much of the innovation would be impossible without open source tools, but because the DIY attitude of open source software communities is the best innovation paradigm for web-enabled social change. As Karim Lakhani says, the open source model is about "the movement of innovative activity to the edges of organizations and into communities". I think a conference & community like the one proposed in this post, that brings together developers and social change activists, would be a prime site for another open source principle described by Lakhani: "the intersection of firms and communities and the emergence of hybrid models of organizations that blend and blur firms and communities".
INNOVATION IS A CONTACT SPORT

I'd like to add a tip from the new programme at NESTA who's strapline is Innovation is a Contact Sport. NESTA Connect "will focus on creating new, unexpected or extreme collaborations - blurring the traditional boundaries between disciplines, organisations and places. We believe such collaboration has the potential to generate radical, transformational innovation." At their Uploading Innovation Event I highlighted the reasons why online innovation and human rights are closely intertwined . A conference like Netsquared Europe could be a great opportunity to creare unexpeted collaborations by mashing up the new wave of social entreprenuers with dedicated networks like The Association for Progressive Communications and young upstarts like the Web Activist Collective .

WHO'S IN THE MIX?

The success of a project like Netsquared Europe will depend on the collaboration of organisations and networks that already reflect facets of its goals. Take the original Californian tech-visionaries of Netsquared and remix with the professsionalism of the eCampaigning Forum, the European activist focus of Total Tactics, the open source know-how of the Tactical Technology Collective and the enterprise of The School for Social Entrepreneurs and what do you get....?

We need a Freedom of Expression League Table for Web 2.0

FREE EXPRESSION IN WEB 2.0

This is a call for a Freedom of Expression league table for Myspace, Youtube and other Web 2.0 spaces. Privacy International has shown the way with their Privacy Ranking of Internet Service Companies, which lists the best and the worst privacy practices across the full spectrum of social networking, email & search sites. But with the emergence of web 2.0 sites as spaces for civic dialogue there's a critical need to test their commitment to free expression and the exchange of ideas.

UDHR VERSUS TOS

The problem lies in the radical difference between the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the realities of the Terms of Service agreements we sign up to when using online services. Article 19 of the UDHR says "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers", whereas a service like YouTube will assert the right for the company to remove content that it considers to be 'inappropriate'.

PSEUDO-PUBLIC SPACES

Despite the way that MySpace and YouTube are marketed as communities they are actually corporate spaces. As I pointed out in my post on social networking and social change: "Like shopping malls, they are pseudo-public spaces where our presence is tolerated as long as we are not interfering with the creation of (advertising) value for the owners". Of course, the role of commerical companies is to make a profit, and they also have legal liabilities to content with around issues like copyright. But the debate around the role of internet companies in China has shown that it's not OK for these powerful corporates to ignore the human rights consequences of their commercial decisions.

PRIVACY INTERNATIONAL

In my opinion, the Privacy International report gives us a great model for how to tackle these issues. Their analysis employs a methodology comprising around twenty core parameters and was compiled using data derived from public sources (newspaper articles, blog entries, submissions to government inquiries, privacy policies etc), information provided by present and former company staff, technical analysis and interviews with company representatives. Although they say that "we have been surprised by the number of social networking sites which are taking some of these issues quite seriously" it's notable that "not one of the ranked organizations achieved a 'green' status" (where green means privacy-friendly and privacy enhancing).

privacy rankings

RACE TO THE BOTTOM

Although it's fascinating to read the detail of the differences between, say, Bebo and Hi5, i think the most worrying aspect of their report is the overall trend of a 'race to the bottom' in corporate surveillance of customers. In their Key Findings they report The current frenzy to capture ad space revenue through the exploitation of new technologies and tools will result in one of the greatest privacy challenges in recent decades. The Internet appears to be shifting as a whole toward this aim, and the opportunity to create market differentiators based on responsible privacy may diminish unless those avenues are explored immediately.

PRIVATISED CENSORSHIP

I fear that the same threats exist to legitimate free expression in the Web 2.0 spaces, where commercial imperatives could drive companies to summarily remove 'objectionable' content, especially if they are pressured to do so by governments or other powerful corporations. This could also throttle the use of these spaces for any campaigning, which is a trend led by the users themselves (see for example the innovative uses of YouTube & MySpace for human rights work and social organising ). The recent Open Net Initiative conference on global internet filtering highlighted the growing privatisation of censorship; as the BBC's Bill Thompson says "Perhaps it's time for the Open Net Initiative to have a look at filtering policies at Facebook, Bebo and MySpace as well as Burma, Iran and Saudi Arabia".

USERS FIGHT BACK?

In the longer run, the anwer may come from angry users who expect to be able to freely express themselves in the social spaces that they helped to create. After all, it's the users who add the valaue and revenue potential to these sites via their content and participation, yet no user has ever received a dividend from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are paid for YouTube or MySpace. But for there to be mass pressure in favour of internet rights, we need to raise the free expression issues in the way that Privacy International is doing for privacy and data protection. As P.I. also point out, the critical issue is not what's on paper but what the company's actual (privacy) practices. Who's going to lead the way on this for Freedom of Expression?

P.S. CORPORATE COMPLICITY

In my opinion, it's no coincidence that the title of the Privacy International report ('A Race to the Bottom') is the same term used by Human Rights Watch in their report on Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship. The overt political censorship of the Chinese authorities and the invisible loss of privacy and fair expression in the commerical enviromnent of the West are two sides of the same coin. Defending the internet against one implies defending against the other, especially as the same corporations are often the critical actors in both.

Next steps for the Number 10 e-petitions

In a pub after the 2007 eCampaigning Forum, Tom Steinberg of mySociety laid down a challenge. Though out of the media headlines, the Number 10 e-petitions engineered by mySociety are still getting tens of thousands of visits a day. Tom's challenge was "what's next?" - how do the people visiting and signing petitions get connected to something actionable? What about all the charities and non-profits that are campaigning and working on the same issues that people are petitioning about - how do people get connected to them?

Tom repeated the challenge a couple of weeks later at The Social Impact of the Web event at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce) - "we built, as a independent contractor, the Number 10 petition site... 25,000 people a day are coming... what I'd like to do is be able to point people to a debate about what happens next... petitions, a very low form of political engagement, can help get people more engaged..." Tom also triggered a conference debate about the relative primacy of tools versus people. He's an advocate for the disruptive effect of new tools - the things that the toolsmiths create challenge the way we do things. Several speakers from the audience challenged that, arguing that it's not the tools which are transformational but the people.

So here's my tool-centric attempts at an answer to Tom's challenge.

Option 1: Ask people to tag their petitions with relevant keywords (in the same way as for Flickr photos or other user-generated content). Link this to a Google Custom Search Engine which indexes a range of charity and NGO websites with relevant campaigns, and display the search results as action links. A proof of concept Advocacy Search was set up by Fairsay a few months ago. One catch here is the effort required to build the site list for the search, especially if refinements are used to provide targeted search (e.g. for 'Campaigns' or 'Advice'). On the plus side the Google CSE is set up to enable collaboration.

[disclaimer: proposing the use of Google tools in no way overwrites my opinion of their actions over China: see also Open Letters Shame Corporates For Their Complicity In China & Real-Time Revisionism]

Option 2: Use petition-tagging tied to an NGO 'action registry' which aggregates all the current advocacy and campaigning actions from the non-profit & NGO sector. Such an Action Registry is proposed as part of Fairsay's eCampaigning Tool (currently in Beta release). Another route to aggregating actions would be to develop a microformat for web actions (see also my proposal for a Prisoner of Conscience Microformat).

The broader debate about whether it's tools or people who are transformational segued in to another of the presentations at the RSA, when Bronwyn Kunhardt quoted Heidegger: "The social character of man is determined by his use of technology". An old pal of mine called Jeremy Weate wrote an excellent paper on this subject called Imaginalysis - or the Technologies of Place. Pointing out that "Heidegger claims τεκνε (techne) most fundamentally refers to ‘disclosure’ or ‘unconcealment’" he asserts that this understanding of technology implies that its meaning is forever contested. Since "the imagination is the conduit or schema by means of which what shows up in the world acquires meaning and significance" we are able to re-imagine the meaning of technologies, rather than seeing them only as the devices of the dominant order. Seems to me this is a tendency at work in all socially-conscious hacktivism (see also eCampaigning for Internet Freedom).

Open Net Initiative's Global Internet Filtering Conference 2007

It was a privilege to attend the OpenNet Initiative's Global Internet Filtering Conference 2007 to discuss the current state of play of Internet filtering worldwide. ONI's empirical testing in 41 countries paints a truly alarming picture of internet filtering as a growing global phenomenon. At the behest of governments, major hardware & software companies have shifted from wiring the world to barbed-wiring the world, dividing the internet into censored national enclosures. The results of ONI's work are visible at a glance in their global internet filtering map.

The principal targets of filtering activity include social themes (such as pornography), national security and political expression, defended by justifications like "it's for the kids", "it's for the motherland", or "why are you asking anyway? Maybe you should come to the security office for an interview...". But very few countries limit their filtering to a narrow set of targets - instead, a majority of countries filter a broad set of topics, suggesting that filtering regimes, once put into place, generally expand beyond their initial mandate. Non-profits and campaigning organisations should note that at least one commercial filtering package now has a tick-box to automatically enable filtering of NGO websites.

Although it is ONI's analytical toolset and technical proficiency which has made this report possible, it was clear from the conference that the technical side is only half the story. The datasets are made meaningful by the qualitative input of in-country experts, and the ONI site includes country profiles and regional overviews replete with political, legal and social context.

The ONI have a refreshing openness about the limitations of their work, and were happy to discuss the dimensions of filtering that are outside of the scope of their report. These range from the filtering of non-web channels, especially instant messaging and cellular / mobile, to the way that sites can be censored via take-down notices or by a quiet word from local security officials. Two of the most important new areas that emerged from the day's debate were event-based filtering and the privatisation of censorship.

The OpenNet Initiative's current methodology means that a site is counted as blocked if it is consistently unavailable for the week of the testing period. While this means that ONI data is much more reliable than off-the-cuff rumours of filtering, it is obviously not well suited to government tactics of short term blocking around the time of an election or international meeting. There was a consensus at the conference that this is a critical area and there is a need for rapid-response monitoring. It also seems sensible for ONI's techniques to be a routine part of any election monitoring as well (OSCE take note).

The importance of non-state filtering was raised my many participants at the conference and from different viewpoints. Many people (especially in developing countries) get their main internet access through work or university, and workplaces are increasingly filtering and blocking internet access under the rationale of 'productivity'. Given the importance of the net for union organising there could be an important role here for trade unions. (Ironically, the Oxford college that hosted this conference issued participants with a notice warning that unauthorised internet activity would result in immediate disconnection). At a strategic level there was a lot of concern that states would outsource all filtering to private sector actors without a legal trail that could be tied back to the government. Since it's governments that are signed up to the international system of human rights legislation, this privatisation of censorship could create a kind of human rights evasion.

For me, the next question is how to make the ONI's work actionable. As someone once said, the point is not to interpret the world in various ways but to change it. What campaigning can reverse the increasing trend to broad & unaccountable internet filtering? It would certainly help if the ONI's impressive data was supplemented by human stories - people who aren't internet freedom geeks will need to understand why repressive filtering is a bad thing and how it can damage people's lives. An interesting hint of the potential impact of filtering as politicisation comes from Pakistan, where the government blocked the whole of Blogger in order to suppress one or two individual blogs. This led to the launch of the Pakistani “Don’t Block The Blog” campaign, which drew previously non-political people in to a campaign against filtering.

Influencing the legal and policy framework will be critical, and there needs to be an active link with the dynamic coalitions that have come out of the Internet Governance Forum. One curious finding of the conference was that there is a low correlation between repressive media laws and active internet filtering; those states who (on statute) hate independent media aren't necessarily big internet blockers, and vice versa. The conference workshop on the impact of internet censorship on economic development shows that filtering may incur opportunity costs as well as rights violations. It may turn out that environmental issues will become another agrument against filtering . Given the strategic and cross-cutting significance of the internet it's probably time to create a UN Special Rapporteur for Internet Freedom.

One campaigning seed within the ONI's work is the potential for action research; applying knowledge gained by studying filtering directly to techniques for circumvention. A key ONI member, Toronto's Citizen Lab, is the creator of the recently-released Psiphon software, and the conference included a session on circumvention tools with participants from TOR, Peacefire, Anonymizer, Psiphon and DynaWeb. While I understand some people's concern that ONI itself should be seen as neutral and impartial to boost the credibility of its data, I don't think that precludes more hacktivist projects. After all, most research on cancer is done by people who are unambigously committed to preventing it. As I wrote in eCampaigning for Internet Freedom, advocacy efforts will tend to be supported by the more direct policy challenge of hacktivist techniques.

One notable omission from the conference was any kind of web 2.0 / social web perspective, and yet this wave of web engagement could offer different ways to tackle filtering questions. On the one hand, the participative nature of web 2.0 offers the chance to broaden decision-making beyond the traditional choke points, and could address the kind of objection to regulation systems raised by the APC ("that key groups which are deemed to benefit from such systems – women and children – are largely absent from such discussions."). The social web offers ways to reach out to key transnational constituencies that can be affected by filtering, such as LGBT communities or diasporas. And it may also be that in the quantum foam of activity at the user-generated level there are already innovations in practical circumvention that should be researched and amplified.

Whatever happens, the ONI have already succeeded in drawing a clear line in the sand. They've objectively proven the massive expansion of internet filtering and provided weighty evidence of its scope and sophistication. They are working on ways in which this critical work can be extended by becoming more decentralised and involve more participants. It's up to the rest of us to join the effort, and to turn evidence into action.

eCampaigning for Internet Freedom

Those of us using the internet in campaigns to change some social or environmental policy call ourselves ecampaigners. But ecampaigning is based on internet freedoms which are under serious and increasing threat. Whether the dimension of freedom is technical, such as the end-to-end principle, or legal, such as the absence of state blog regulation, we can't assume it'll continue to exist. And web 2.0 (a.k.a. the social web) could accelerate the dangers to internet freedoms. It's possible that ecampaigning will become completely neutered, so that we won't be able to anything controversial, we won't be able reach half the world's population, and in any case people won't want to get involved.

privacy invasion

One of the most serious threats is privacy invasion. There's a reason why Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion - they want to learn all about our habits so they can target more effective advertising at us. Yahoo (proud owner of Flickr and Delicious) says it wants social networks to define its business - they don't just want to know about us, they also want to know about our friends. The National Security Agency in the USA has set its sights on the datamining of social networking websites for intelligence gathering. With the advent of web 2.0 we are seeing the emergence of the panoptic gaze of web 2.0 and infrastructures of dataveillance. As well as violating our individual privacy the web-enabled data aggregation can lead to “social sorting†beyond the consumer realm, allowing authorities to reinforce social differences and enact discrimination. (Ironically, this is a dark reflection of audience segmenting, which is a key technique for effective ecampaigning).

filtering

Many ecampaigners assume that the internet is still a global space, but it's actually in danger of becoming a set of censored national enclosures. Back in 2002 only 3 countries regularly filtered & blocked content (China, Iran & Saudi Arabia), but according to the Open Net Initiative it's now up to 25, and the scope of the blocking is growing, as in the recent blockings of YouTube. (The human rights impact of YouTube will be the subject of a future post here). States and corporations are inseparable partners in the business of internet filtering - as Alexandra Samuel says

In the digital era, the infrastructure for policy enforcement is often digital - and the creators of that infrastructure are generally private companies. That makes state security inseparable from corporate security; the ability to enforce policy compliance extends only to the extent that your technology is hack-proof. This creates a complicated relationship of policy interdependence among countries: consider, for example, the fact that China's firewalls - the infrastructure for its information controls, and the target of much hacktivism - run on routers from US-based Cisco.

This profitable partnership to fence off the internet leads to a kind of real-time revisionism and has received justifiable condemnation .

censorship

Many people were shocked to learn of the censorship and imprisonment of Egyptian blogger Karim Amer who was sentenced to four years in prison for defaming both the president and Islam. This unfortunate blogger wasn't a hardcore human rights activist - his blog also includes film reviews and other personal minutae. He was, however, outspoken and even offensive - which he has every right to be under international law. His jailing may prove the general point that when social media seems to be making a social difference, repression will surely follow. And in the participative spaces of web 2.0, censorship can come in many forms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights might value free expression but the same thing can't be said of YouTube's Terms of Service, which leaves content vulnerable to vague allegations of being 'objectionable' or 'inappropriate'. What becomes of freedom of expression in the pseudo-public spaces of the online monopolies?

copyright

Another threat to internet freedoms is the aggressive expansion of copyright and so-called Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Although these issues are beyond the ken of many traditional rights organisations they can have a direct impact on ecampaigning. Corporates have already responded aggressively to the use of their logos in online campaigns, although happily there have been robust defences by organisations like Greenpeace. Web sites can also be subject to take-downs through legislation such as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which can become a form of legalised harassment and disruption against campaigning web sites. In the future, the Digital Rights Management technology that'll be built in to the very heart of our hardware could be spying on the fact that we've been watching a certain campaigning video on our PC. All this flies in the face of the traditional protections that copyright offered to parody and fair comment, let alone the concept that mixing and mashing is the emergent free speech of our times .

net neutrality

And finally, but perhaps fundamentally, we've all grown used to the idea that bloggers can compete with the CNN for the internet audience, and there are many examples where this has led to some kind of media or social impact. This won't be the case on Internet 2, the 'next-generation' high-speed internet which is specced out as a tightly controlled and locked-down environment, removing any of the bugs/features that gave the internet its freedom.

why should we campaign for Internet Freedom?

It's very worrying that most ecampaigners are ignoring these threats to the environment that they depend on. Of course, they're all busy doing online campaigns for the core mission of their organizations, whether it's environmental, human rights or whatever. But key techniques like blogging, social networking and global campaigning are already being impacted by reductions in internet freedoms, and this is reason enough for ecampaigners as a profession to be collectively involved in campaigning against those threats. But there's a deeper imperative as well, arising from the nature of the information society, which is the fact that the internet itself is becoming an actor in many of these core missions. For example, the internet is not just a tool for communicating about human rights, it is itself a terrain for human rights struggle. Many development organizations see access to the internet and open knowledge as a key element of economic & social development. And, as Rolf Kleef pointed out, even environmental agendas may interpenetrate the internet via the Aarhus convention (which grants the public rights regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice in environmental matters). But many established organisations don't yet get it, and the danger is they'll only realise when it's too late.

on what basis should we campaign?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the legal frameworks drawn from it provide a plethora of policy tools to defend internet freedoms, ranging from Article 19's right to seek, receive and impart information freely, to Article 12's defence of privacy and even Article 20's right to freedom of assembly. Most governments are already signed up to the UDHR and (more or less) to the international treaties that flow from it. On the copyright side we can pursue the openings of Creative Commons and the work done at WIPO by organisations such as CPTech (for example the right for developing countries to manufacture local versions of AIDS drugs)

who should campaign?

In my humble opinion, all ecampaigners and the NGOs they work for should contribute to a broad coalition campaign to preserve internet freedoms. It is not safe to assume that the battle can be left to the usual suspects, whether that's digital freedom groups such as the EFF or traditional human rights organizations (whose grasp of digital issues can be pretty weak), because the issues are too broad for any one organisation to cover. In the UK it would be logical to look to existing coalitions such as the Global New Media Group, which emerged from the new media campaigning of Make Poverty History. An alternative hub could be something like the Open Rights Group , which is committed to defending civil liberties in the digital
world and was itself born out of a kind of ecampaign (a pledge on MySociety's Pledgebank). Whatever form the campaign takes it can take advantage of the way the internet itself supports emergent foms of collaborative innovation.

how should we campaign?

Almost all ecampaigning is some kind of advocacy - pressuring someone like a government official or corporate CEO to make a decision or change a decision. For sure, we need active campaigning for internet freedom, so we need to follow the tried and test methods of developing an influencing strategy & identifying target audiences. But there's also the really interesting possibility of using hacktivism, in the form of the policy circumvention defined in Hacktivism & The Future of Political Participation :

Policy circumvention is here defined as legal noncompliance that: a) is a strategic political response to a specific policy, law, regulation or court decision b) focuses on nullifying the effect of a policy, law, regulation, or court decision, and c) creates some non-excludable benefits (though there may be additional, excludable benefits of non-compliance).

Rather than waiting for a bad law to be changed, policy circumvention routes around it - a tactic that goes back to the original nature of the internet!

hacktivism

A good example of hacktivism in practice is the Citizen Lab's Psiphon tool. Psiphon is a censorship circumvention solution that allows users to access blocked sites in countries where the Internet is censored. A really nice aspect of Psiphon is the social side of the tool - rather than being a public tool it operates through networks of trust between people in censored and un-censored locations, which also makes it difficult for the authorities to detect or block. Another exemplar of hacktivism is The Onion Router a.k.a. Tor which provides a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tools like these act directly to negate the threats of filtering, censorship and privacy invasion. Note that policy circumvention is not the same as law-breaking; in fact, using these tools enables people to directly enact their rights under international law. Moreover, research suggests that policy circumvention is an additional pressure for policy change because it undermines the credibility of the policies themselves. It may be that policy circumvention and hacktivism will have a bigger part to play in all the ecampaigning of the future. To quote Alexandra Samuel again:

in an information economy, policy circumvention will be an expanding sphere of political activity. The domains that are most vulnerable to policy circumvention are domains that are dependent on information: information distribution, and information control. In an information age, more and more economic and social activity unfolds in these domains. That means that more and more of the state's activity, and its policy responsibilities, will unfold in domains that are vulnerable to policy circumvention by hacktivists.

Certainly there are people like Ron Deibert of the Psiphon project who are focusing on the need to develop this field of work to “ensure that protecting freedom of speech online is embedded within the research agendaâ€. Perhaps the need to defend internet freedoms gives ecampaigners an urgent incentive to pioneer this new form of campaigning.

social networking and social change

It's hardly a surprise that large NGO's are starting to experiment with social networks, given the sheer numbers of people using them and their high media profile. But, judging by comments on the eCampaigning Forum wiki , there's some uncertainty about how non-profits should approach social networks, and especially how to get an effective return for the time that has to be invested in these relationship-spaces. NGOs are also anxious about the loss of control - in a participative space, what happens to the brand and the carefully crafted messaging?

Of course, some groups have already leveraged a lot from these space, such as the Genocide Information Network (see also my previous post ). Despite the fact that there are now some decent initiatives from larger orgs such as Oxfam's Oxjam and Amnesty's Make Some Noise (both MySpace, and both focussed on youth + music) I still think that the agility deficit of large organisations means that smaller groups or non-profit start-ups like GI-Net will find it easier to get to grip with social networks.

A parallel dynamic comes from what i call the first law of web 2.0, which says that people will do it anyway. Community groups and grassroots activists aren't waiting for large NGos to decide whether social networks are kosher - they're just going ahead and using them (for better or for worse).

Another and newer issue for NGOs is the potential fragmentation of social spaces, as niche communities start to spring up. It's hard enough for a traditional org to decide what to do about MySpace or YouTube, so the multiplication of spaces must seem like a dizzying kaleidescope. The flip side of this is the emergence of social networks focusing directly on activism, which could give non-profits a direct route to interested audiences and cut out a lot of the noise. Right now this seems like a growing trend, with examples like Change.org & Project Agape , but there's also some scepticism about whether this is a good thing. Perhaps they'll be complementary - you go to an activism community for a guaranteed response and to a global pool to filter out new constituents. A recent development is the extension of the LinkedIn business network to support charities .

It's also useful for Western organisations to remember that social networks are a global and growing phenomenon, despite the digital divide. This also complicates the picture for BINGOs because (of course) different cultures use (different) social networks in different ways. The majority of Orkut members are in Brazil, and it is also popular in India. China has QQ , Japan has Mixi and Cyworld originated in South Korea. Youth in Kosova and the Kosovan diaspora use Hi5 rather than MySpace or Bebo. Across the Middle East the picture seems varied; while there are Iranian MySpace pages with thousands of friends, Saudi Arabians seem keener on Orkut, and there are MySpace look-alikes like MuslimSpace.

Despite the attraction of numbers in the dominant global communities like MySpace and YouTube, they are corporate spaces that could pose problems for sustained ecampaigning. Like shopping malls, they are pseudo-public spaces where our presence is tolerated as long as we are not interfering with the creation of (advertising) value for the owners. NGOS should take note of reports that Yahoo shut down many anti-war Yahoo Groups. We may assume the carry over of internet freedoms like free expression, but where does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stand in relation to YouTube's terms of service? (more on this in a future post).

So should NGOs thrown up their hands at the complex and time-hungry nature of these spaces, with their in-world cultures and hard-to-define returns? I think that would be unwise. Whatever the shake-out that follows the new web boom, these spaces hint at emerging online behaviours that aren't simply going to go away. And if the next generation are flooding in to these spaces, perhaps NGOs have a duty to be there, even if it costs them in the short term. For if, as Danah Boyd says, young people are

using the sites to present themselves to a small group of friends and get their recognition and feedback. The sites are an opportunity to define in public who they are. By providing an audience, and the tools to interact with that audience, the social networks are satisfying that need. Boyd calls this behaviour “identity production” and, employing a favourite phrase of hers, says that young people are trying to “write themselves into being”

then shouldn't NGOs be ensuring that the causes they represent are part of that mix?

From a human rights perspective I think the social networking phenomena may have a deep significance. Events like Rwanda have shown the relative impotence of international legal frameworks to prevent mass human rights abuses. We certainly need the values of the UDHR to be embodied in activists that are part of social networks (locally and internationally) and who, by being in communication with one another, feel more empowered to to take action on the ground.

Drupal and the Dot Org Boom

The news that Amnesty Seeks a Drupal/CiviCRM Vendor signals a move in to open source that should benefit Amnesty and have a wider impact for NGOs and the open source movement. I started advocating for open source at Amnesty's International Secretariat more than two years ago, but anyone who has been a change agent within a large organisation will know that it's a big challenge to get a strategic commitment to FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software). Of course it helps if a like-minded organisation has already taken the plunge, and we got a lot of support from Andrew H. and Romilly G. who had already steered Oxfam's adoption of Plone. This made the case that serious NGOs were adopting enterprise-ready open source and also, through Oxfam's participation in the Plone Foundation, showed that a large NGO can be an active member of an open source community.

The best way to keep pace with the rate that web tools evolve is to be part of a community of innovation. So I was excited by the buzz of community activity around Drupal at the Netsquared 2006 conference, where I could see an emergent sweet spot for web activism at the confluence of FOSS developers and social activists. A stream of developments confirms this trend, from CitizenSpeak's free email advocacy service for grassroots organizations to the fact that Drupal is a leading contender as the platform for development of the WITNESS video hub (a human rights portal).

For me, the increasing adoption of open source tools for real-world impact validates several years of commitment to bringing together FOSS & NGO communities. This work has been inspired by organisations like Aspiration in the USA and the Tactical Technology Collective here in Europe. In the UK we formed a small collective of volunteers which organised the Social Source events in 2004 and 2005, and it's great to see how many of the participants have made important contributions to the common DNA of open source and social change.

One of those groups was Mute Magazine, who became early UK adopters of CiviCRM. and full credit should be given to the CiviCRM community for the way their software has risen to enterprise level. When I looked at it 12 months ago it was hard to see it competing against off-the-shelf CRM solutions by ASP providers like Kintera, Convio and so forth. But such is the pace of development that it is now a credible solution, especially if your criteria include internationalisation and the potential to interface with mobile channels, both of which should be important for international NGOs who want to engage constituencies in the global south.

I think there's an underlying dynamic at work here that goes deeper than the pragmatics of ecampaigning, and I like Juha Huuskonen's notion of the Dot Org Boom "referring to the same development as Web 2.0 but from a different perspective. Dot Org Boom is proposing that the current wave of development is heading to non-profit direction,something that Web 2.0 promoters would probably not want to agree with". Propagated through the PixelACHE festival the notion of the Dot Org Boom is actually a non-web idea, drawn from a study of social entrepreneurs from around the world and focusing on the activities of Ashoka Foundation, but Juha says

Our version of Dot Org Boom consisted of independent media, open source community and NGOs. Considering the fact that all these three areas share the same basic principles - open, non-profit activities based on volunteer contributions and grassroot organisations - it's striking how little collaboration there has been between these areas. The tactical media/indymedia/activist networks used to be very different from the sourceforge/slashdot/geek camp and the NGOs were mostly left out of the loop, happily using their Microsoft tools. What I find essential in the Dot Org Boom is that these three components - open content, open tools, open organisation models - are starting to find each other. Web 2.0 people would like to ignore the organisation component of this transformation.

 

UPDATE: Twitter for Human Rights

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Great to see that Global Voices is now on Twitter. And, even better, the updates are available in Chinese and Spanish as well as English.

Thanks to all-round Twitter/IM hacker Mario Menti for pointing this out. (Mario was behind the censorship-evading IM Persian news bot I mentioned in my previous post).

Having had a bit more time to watch the ebb and flow of Twittering (check out Mapping the Twitosphere ) I can see an immediate application being Twitter updates by human rights defenders who are under threat ("Made it to the office safely this morning") or, perhaps more practically, by the people who are trying to defend them, such as volunteers from Peace Brigades International. The subscribers to the Twitter feed would be given a pre-arranged checking / action protocol that would allow rapid response in case of trouble.

Josh Wolf free but citizen journalism under threat

I'm very happy to see that Josh Wolf was set free on April 3rd, and I'm proud to say that this blog featured the 'Free Josh Wolf' banner. However, I've just had a quick scan of Josh's blog and I have a different view about the most important lesson of his imprisonment. His focus is the legal situation of journalists in the States, whereas I see more of a threat to the web as a participative space. The internet has become a tool for social impact, and the most important thing to defend is its use by ordinary citizens.

josh wolf

Josh refused to turn over unpublished video out-takes to a federal grand jury investigating a July, 2005 anti-G8 demonstration which he had covered on his blog. He was never been convicted of a crime. He was held on civil contempt in an effort to coerce him to testify and turn over his unpublished material to a federal grand jury. On February 6th he became longest-incarcerated journalist in U.S. history for refusal to comply with a subpoena on journalistic principles.

The immediate scandal of Josh's case is summed up by Dan Gillmor (a prominent advocate for citizen journlism). In short, the federal governmant blagged jurisdiction his case "using a pretext so flimsy that it would be laughable if the issue wasn’t so serious — it says there’s a federal case because federal tax dollars helped pay for a city police car that was damaged in the demonstration". In fact, it should have been handled at state level, where he would have had protection from imprisonment. So after his release Josh said

Much of the debate has focused on whether or not I am a journalist; this question is nothing more than a distraction and a red herring...The question that needs to be asked is not "Is Josh Wolf a journalist?" but should journalists deserve the same protections in federal court as those afforded them in state courts.

I think the threat is in the question 'who is a journalist'. It's clear that this will be used to divide the deserving from the undeserving. The space for ordinary citizens to use the web to report social issues is already being squeezed. See, for example, the recent French law on filming acts of violence - the implications of which are spelled out by Sami Ben Gharbia :

France’s Constitutional Council passed the Sarkozy law which criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. During the parliamentary debate, government representatives said the law is meant to target a practice known as “happy slapping”, defined in Wikipedia as "a fad in which an unsuspecting victim is attacked while an accomplice records the assault (commonly with a camera phone or a smartphone)." In France, therefore, the filming and broadcasting of acts of violence such as the riots which took place in the Paris suburbs during the month of October and November, 2005, will henceforth be the prerogative of accredited journalists only. Under this new law, any other eyewitness who records acts of violence, or anyone who makes the content available online (the operator of a web site, for instance) could face up to five years' imprisonment and a fine of nearly US$100,000. In an ironic twist, the law was announced on March 3, 2007, exactly 16 years after amateur videographer George Holliday filmed African-American Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers. The officers' eventual acquittal in 1992 sparked off riots in the city.

So one way the clampdown comes is in the name of tackling antisocial behaviour. Historically, we've seen this tendency before. The original Public Order Act in the UK was introduced in the 1930's in the name of dealing with Moseley's Blackshirts (the British Fascist movement) - but in the subsequent decades it was used over and over again to suppress civil disobedience and left-wing protests.

My interest is how to defend the use of the internet by people who aren't (as the French law says) 'professional journalists'. Talking to experts on the role of Human Rights Defenders it seems to me that journalists are the ones who get the most attention and protection, both through professional organisations and because global society broadly accepts the role of 'journalist' as something socially necessary. (Note: I don't wish to minimise the specific threat to journalists where that exists e.g. in overtly repressive regimes). But what about all those other segments of society who are learning to use the net to report on social problems that are critical to them?

So, for me, the issue raised by Josh's case is the need to step back from the label 'journalist' and look at why that's seen as a necessary role in civil society. In Josh's first post after being freed he quoted a US Judge Douglas (from a press freedom case in the 1970's) who said "The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring fulfillment to the public’s right to know". Surely this role is being massively and positively expanded by the blogosphere (one only has to look at Global Voices as an example) and in general by the participative internet (see for example my earlier post UCLA Student Tasered: is YouTube a human rights tool? ). Do we follow the citizen journalism of Dan Gillmor and say "While Wolf’s sympathies may well have been with the demonstrators, he was engaging in journalism when he shot that footage". Or do we just dump the category of journalist all together and find other terms for our right to participate and to be heard? In harsh times, is it enough to be reporters, or do we need to become defenders? Josh quotes the same Judge Douglas as saying

“As the years pass, the power of government becomes more and more pervasive. It is a power to suffocate both people and causes. Those in power, whatever their politics, want only to perpetuate it. Now that the fences of the law and the tradition that protected the press are broken down, the people are the victims".

198 Methods of Online Activism

In the run up to the eCampaigning Forum 2007 there's been some interest in how to integrate online and offline campaigning. I like the way that Alexandra Samuel draws comparisons between offline & online activism, as part of establishing her definition of hacktivism .

 

Different activist repertoires: some examples
  offline online
conventional Activism:
Voting
Electioneering
Non-violent protest marches
Boycotts
Online activism:
Online voting
Online campaign donations
Online petitions
transgressive

Civil disobedience:
Sit-ins
Barricades
Political graffiti
Wildcat strikes
Underground presses
Political theater
Sabotage

Hacktivism:
Web site defacements
Web site redirects
Denial-of-service attacks
Information theft
Site parodies
Virtual sit-ins
Virtual sabotage
Software development

What I'd really like to see is an online equivalent for Gene Sharp's amazing list of 198(!) Methods of Nonviolent Action , which was published back in 1973. (Thanks to Ian Chandler's Effective Campaigning course for pointing me to that).

I know that some won't have any online analogue, but the process of figuring that out may throw up some new ideas for online activism, and we're sure to end up with a full spectrum list of ecampaigning techniques.
So there's the challenge for the eCampaigning Forum (and beyond). If you can think of an online tactic for any of the offline ones from the list, please add them as a comment or send them directly.

THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT ACTION

(from Gene Sharp, The Methods of Nonviolent Action, Boston 1973)

THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT PROTEST AND PERSUASION

FORMAL STATEMENTS
1. Public speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public declarations
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions
COMMUNICATIONS WITH A WIDER AUDIENCE
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting
GROUP REPRESENTATIONS
13. Deputations
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
16. Picketing
17. Mock elections
SYMBOLIC PUBLIC ACTS
18. Displays of flags and symbolic colours
19. Wearing of symbols
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures
PRESSURES ON INDIVIDUALS
31. "Haunting" officials
32. Taunting officials
33. Fraternization
34. Vigils
DRAMA AND MUSIC
35. Humourous skits and pranks
36. Performances of plays and music
37. Singing
PROCESSIONS
38. Marches
39. Parades
40. Religious processions
41. Pilgrimages
42. Motorcades
HONOURING THE DEAD
43. Political mourning
44. Mock funerals
45. Demonstrative funerals
46. Homage at burial places
PUBLIC ASSEMBLIES
47. Assemblies of protest or support
48. Protest meetings
49. Camouflaged meetings of protest
50. Teach-ins
WITHDRAWAL AND RENUNCIATION
51. Walk-outs
52. Silence
53. Renouncing honours
54. Turning one's back

THE METHODS OF SOCIAL NONCOOPERATION

OSTRACISM OF PERSONS
55. Social boycott
56. Selective social boycott
57. Lysistratic nonaction
58. Excommunication
59. Interdict
NONCOOPERATION WITH SOCIAL EVENTS, CUSTOMS, AND INSTITUTIONS
60. Suspension of social and sports activities
61. Boycott of social affairs
62. Student strike
63. Social disobedience
64. Withdrawal from social institutions
WITHDRAWAL FROM THE SOCIAL SYSTEM
65. Stay-at-home
66. Total personal noncooperation
67. "Flight" of workers
68. Sanctuary
69. Collective disappearance
70. Protest emigration (hijrat)

THE METHODS OF ECONOMIC NONCOOPERATION: ECONOMIC BOYCOTTS

ACTION BY CONSUMERS
71. Consumers' boycott
72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
73. Policy of austerity
74. Rent withholding
75. Refusal to rent
76. National consumers' boycott
77. International consumers' boycott
ACTION BY WORKERS AND PRODUCERS
78. Workers' boycott
79. Producers' boycott
ACTION BY MIDDLEMEN
80. Suppliers' and handlers' boycott
ACTION BY OWNERS AND MANAGEMENT
81. Traders' boycott
82. Refusal to let or sell property
83. Lockout
84. Refusal of industrial assistance
85. Merchants' "general strike"
ACTION BY HOLDERS OF FINANCIAL RESOURCES
86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
89. Severance of funds and credit
90. Revenue refusal
91. Refusal of a government's money
ACTION BY GOVERNMENTS
92. Domestic embargo
93. Blacklisting of traders
94. International sellers' embargo
95. International buyers' embargo
96. International trade embargo

THE METHODS OF ECONOMIC NONCOOOPERATION: THE STRIKE

SYMBOLIC STRIKES
97. Protest strike
98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)
AGRICULTURAL STRIKES
99. Peasant strike
100. Farm workers' strike
STRIKES BY SPECIAL GROUPS
101. Refusal of impressed labour
102. Prisoners' strike
103. Craft strike
104. Professional strike

ORDINARY INDUSTRIAL STRIKES
105. Establishment strike
106. Industry strike
107. Sympathy strikeRESTRICTED STRIKES
108. Detailed strike
109. Bumper strike
110. Slowdown strike
111. Working-to-rule strike
112. Reporting "sick" (sick-in)
113. Strike by resignation
114. Limited strike
115. Selective strike
MULTI-INDUSTRY STRIKES
116. Generalised strike
117. General strike
COMBINATION OF STRIKES AND ECONOMIC CLOSURES
118. Hartal
119. Economic shutdown

THE METHODS OF POLITICAL NONCOOPERATION

REJECTION OF AUTHORITY
120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
121. Refusal of public support
122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance
CITIZENS' NONCOOPERATION WITH GOVERNMENT
123. Boycott of legislative bodies
124. Boycott of elections
125. Boycott of government employment and positions
126. Boycott of government departments, agencies, and other bodies
127. Withdrawal from governmental educational institutions
128. Boycott of government-supported institutions
129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
131. Refusal to accept appointed officials
132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions
CITIZENS' ALTERNATIVES TO OBEDIENCE
133. Reluctant and slow compliance
134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
135. Popular nonobedience
136. Disguised disobedience
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
138. Sitdown
139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
140. Hiding, escape, and false identities
141. Civil disobedience of "illegitimate" laws
ACTION BY GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL
142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
143. Blocking of lines of command and information
144. Stalling and obstruction
145. General administrative noncooperation
146. Judicial noncooperation
147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents
148. Mutiny
DOMESTIC GOVERNMENTAL ACTION
149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units
INTERNATIONAL GOVERNMENTAL ACTION
151. Changes in diplomatic and other representation
152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
154. Severance of diplomatic relations
155. Withdrawal from international organisations
156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
157. Expulsion from international organisations

THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT INTERVENTION

PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERVENTION
158. Self-exposure to the elements
159. The fast
a) Fast of moral pressure
b) Hunger strike
c) Satyagrahic fast
160. Reverse trial
161. Nonviolent harassment
PHYSICAL INTERVENTION
162. Sit-in
163. Stand-in
164. Ride-in
165. Wade-in
166. Mill-in
167. Pray-in
168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids
170. Nonviolent invasion
171. Nonviolent interjection
172. Nonviolent obstruction
173. Nonviolent occupation
SOCIAL INTERVENTION
174. Establishing new social patterns
175. Overloading of facilities
176. Stall-in
177. Speak-in
178. Guerrilla theatre
179. Alternative social institutions
180. Alternative communication system
ECONOMIC INTERVENTION
181. Reverse strike
182. Stay-in strike
183. Nonviolent land seizure
184. Defiance of blockades
185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
186. Preclusive purchasing
187. Seizure of assets
188. Dumping
189. Selective patronage
190. Alternative markets
191. Alternative transportation systems
192. Alternative economic institutions
POLITICAL INTERVENTION
193. Overloading of administrative systems
194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
195. Seeking imprisonment
196. Civil disobedience of "neutral" laws
197. Work-on without collaboration
198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

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