The (b)Logosphere – Part 2

The companies that provide blogging, social networking and video hosting services are becoming aware of the fact that a core user constituency is engaged in citizen journalism and digital advocacy. And that this also presents challenges. These companies are in a position in which they are are compelled to comply with the censorship and surveillance demands of governments and corporations in addition to protecting the privacy and freedom of expression of their users. In fact many of these services, such a Youtube and Flickr, have been censored in various countries. In other cases, they have chosen to self-censor to comply with local restrictions. They have also turned over data resulting in the arrest of activists and dissidents.

But just as users can protect themselves, so can companies.

1. If you log it, they will come. What you log, how it is stored (anonymized logs), and how long you keep them for are important.

2. Censorship is a double-edged sword. If you do not censor, there is a risk that your service will be blocked. If you do censor, you will be condemned. Therefore it is important to be open and transparent surrounding what and how you censor. Derek Bambauer has a great paper that expands on what the concept of transparency really means. It is well worth the read.

3. Awareness is crucial. Internal awareness of the use of your services by political activists and citizen journalists is very important. Consider the case(starts at 14:15 in the podcast) of Wael Abbas in Egypt: he uploaded videos of police brutality and torture in Egypt to YouTube which lead to the arrest of some officers involved. YouTube suspended his account for posting “inappropriate material” and did no respond to his emails asking for clarification. Only after his case appeared on CNN and major media outlets as well as a campaign by fellow bloggers did YouTube restore his account. YouTube said that the videos did not have sufficient context. Wael says that YouTube told him that the people staffing the suspensions were new and didn’t know what they were doing as all the complaints leading to the suspension of the account were from one source, most likely the Egyptian government.

4. Communication is vital. If is very important for users to know the potential risks they face. For example, it is now well known that Yahoo! China has cooperated with Chinese authorities turning over email and account information that helped convict at least four dissidents. The use of a foreign, well known email service did not provide them with any more protection than a domestic Chinese service would have. In contrast, Google has pledged to not offer certain products in China.

5. Know where your servers are hosted and what your partners/subsidiaries are up to. See Rebecca MacKinnon’s excellent paper for a thorough discussion.

One comment.

  1. Hey Nart. So glad to have found you. I hung you onto today’s Ladder. Very new to this so your help is greatly appreciated.
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

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