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Digital Sketches

digital citizen media, ict with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East.

Last week I attended some presentations at re:publica 10, Berlin:

  • Evgeny Morozov has taken up the role of the bad cop in the world of digital activism and always challenges the believers in the Internet as an inherently revolutionary an democratic medium: ‘Do not forget the commercialization of digital activism.’ According to Morozov the financial support for digital activism is ‘big business’ because of the large amounts of money foreign state departments – and private parties like funds and the industry – put into supporting internet activism authoritarian and developing countries. Morozov also stated the costs to start a digital campaign – or even a revolution – might be low but this means the costs for contra revolution – by authoritarian regimes – drop as well. ‘One man’s hacktivism is another man’ s cyberwar.’
  • Jeff Jarvis (What would Google do?) focused on the privacy issue. He stated in a slightly provocative presentation ‘instead of asserting the right to privacy, defend pubic information’ . Why do we want privacy? What is privacy but a very culturally defined concept? His description of the shock of the American woman entering an European sauna – and seeing all those naked people – was entertaining. Jarvis: ‘We want to control our own data, creations and identity. But what is the price we want to pay for privacy? The Internet is a public place, a connection machine. The Internet became big by sharing information and the Internet can only fulfil its promises when the default setting on our Facebook, Flickr and other personal accounts is public.’
  • David Sasaki started his talk with the case of the transparency – or the lack of it – after the archives of the German security service Stasi were opened after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sasaki of Global Voices Online gave an overview of the programme Technology for Transparency Network. He showed some cases of increased transparency during elections (Sudan, Philippines) and financial accountability (both and American as an Kenyan budget tracking tool)
  • In the session on freedom of expression Bahraini journalist and star blogger Amira Al Husseini gave an update of the situation in the Middle East. The three biggest taboos are sex, politics and religion. To avoid problems do not blog about these topics. She explained some differences between Arab states; Kuwait and Qatar are more open and Jemen and Egypt are famous for their on line rigid regime. The famous Chinese internet activist and journalist Michael Anti told that although Twitter.com was blocked in China many Chinese were still using twitter via other websites offering access (third party). Virtual Private Network (VPN) is popular in China; access to free Internet is possible if you can afford it. Anti pointed out the Internet is the first freedom Chinese people practise. The next step is to expand his freedom to other media and real life on the ground.’
  • Nishant Shah, from the Centre for Internet Society in Bangalore (supported by Hivos) gave an excellent presentation on his research ‘Digital natives with a cause?’ Digital natives are often looked upon as a technologically savvy, young generation, mainly boys, who spend their whole life on line. In contrast Nishant uses a less strict definition for the digital native. He considers his grandmother also a digital native, as she is blogging and uploading photo’s, her live changed significantly by using digital technologies. Here is the video of Nishants presentation.
  • Thou shall not block, not discriminate unfairly and let users use the tools of their choice. These are the essential rules regarding net neutrality, according to Tim Wu from Colombia University. Every medium – radio, television, films – started its history with democratic ideals, promoting equality and openness. The most important private censorship in the USA was the film censorship in the twenties. This moralistic film code ruined the career of Mae West (‘is that your gun or are you just glad to see me’). He predicted the openness of internet will encounter growing pressure in the near future. Nothing new, as history shows. But: 1) support the people (politicians, journalists, activists) who are protesting 2) there should be a distinction between the ownership of those offering the content and those providing access.
  • The winners of the sixth Deutsche Welle Blog Awards were announced. Of the eleven finalists in the Best Weblog category, Ushahidi (English: “Testimony”) was named the winner after a heated round of debate among the jurists. The jury was ultimately won over by Ushahidi’s innovative approach to collecting and compiling information from users and the important role it has already played in crisis situations throughout the world.

(Both Global Voices Online as the research Digital natives with a cause are supported by Hivos)

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