GVO Summit, Day 2, Session 1

Today started with an introduction to Rising Voices, the outreach arm of Global Voices. A quick overview:

Session 1: Web 2.0 Goes Worldwide

The participatory web has, so far, been limited to the participation of select communities. Thanks to the steady proliferation of broadband connectivity and digital literacy campaigns throughout the developing world, however, some of the most exciting uses of online tools are now taking place in locations where, merely a decade ago, internet access was rare, if available at all. This panel will gather leaders of cutting-edge Web 2.0 initiatives from Colombia, Kenya, Bolivia, and Madagascar who seek to make the global conversation more representative of the global population.

Moderator: Lova Rakotomalala

Catalina Restrepo, HiperBarrio, Colombia

work through libraries to do new media training

project has united community, helped people make friends and write about their experiences

freedom to say what you want to say — makes people happier, ability to speak out is directly related to happiness

violence has gone down, area now considered a beautiful, peaceful place

project facilitates integration of neighborhoods in Medellín — not bordering neighborhoods but very similar, have a lot in common

Collins Dennis Oduor, REPACTED, Kenya

“community theatre” instead of “street theatre” — “we don’t have streets there”

REPACTED uses magnet theatre — doesn’t perform, but trains students to tackle own issues through theatre

open mic rapping — improv, pick topics from basket

work in schools, prisons, etc.

Rising Voices allowed REPACTED to form group for HIV+ youth in prison, working with IDPs

Cristina Quisbert, Voces Bolivianas, Bolivia

Bloguivianos 2007 — Bolivian blogger meeting

multiple blog workshops

writing about indigenous ppl in Spanish, now also in English — enables her to share indigenous culture with English-speaking world

few ppl blogging about indigenous topics, few indigenous ppl blogging at all (even fewer women)

she writes about music, uploads videos

“sad moments”: technical difficulties (old equipment, slow internet, etc.); insulting e-mails/comments; some ppl think she is a man

Mialy Andriamananjara, FOKO, Madagascar

founded by 4 bloggers after TED Africa 2007

challenges: few bloggers, expensive internet, electricity issues, blogging gets bad PR — considered frivolous, something for teenagers/for ppl who want to stand out/want attention

emphasis on community in Madagascar

young, poor, sick not respected

skepticism: ppl didn’t understand why you’d blog instead of feeding the poor

networked w/UN youth club, journalism school, peace corps volunteer

slow internet — hard to upload vid/pics

150 blogs opened in 10 months, blog clubs in 3 major cities, alliance w/Ministry of Education for more digital literacy projects (but lack funding), publish some posts in English-language papers — these bloggers get stipend

have “converted” some journalists to blogging

female bloggers coordinated reading of Vagina Monologues

one blogger mobilized help for boy born with physical deformity, coordinated medical assistance

learned to encourage bloggers, respect different learning curves

competition not always good, esp. in community-oriented society like Madagascar

comments are important

have “buddy system” — pair in-country blogger with one in diaspora

future goals: set up new media center, web design workshops, help artisans get online, focus on women


what do you need? how can ppl help? how do you sustain projects and train so many ppl on such a small budget?

— REPACTED needs help training ppl in web design, computer literacy; they have camera and are using it to tape weddings/birthdays to make $$

how can other ppl from other parts of the world help amplify the voices of indigenous Bolivians?

— blogs are a solution, comments and visits help sustain bloggers

how does training work? how do you counter suspicions, address stigma surrounding blogs?

— rely on networking, friends teaching friends, a lot of support from diaspora

GVO Summit, Day 1, Session 4

Session 4: “Frontline Activists meet the Academy: Tools and Knowledge”

Roger Dingledine from Tor

Tor is anonymity system, program that you run locally that builds a relay path so that no single relay knows both where you’re from and where you’re going

initially funded by US Department of Defense, then by Electronic Frontier Foundation, Voice of America, InterNews, Google, a Dutch foundation (NL Net)

Tor helps it so that someone who’s watching a user can’t dictate where they can go — evades filtering

projects: making it so it’s less obvious when ppl are using Tor, six main IP addresses that are being used — that makes it too easy for govts to find out who’s using them

situation can’t be solved with a purely technical approach — many ppl believe that if content is censored by govt, it is bad

challenge: Tor is run locally on computer, so some ppl can’t use

challenge: imposter versions of Tor that may actually make it easier for Internet use to be tracked

goal is to make it as usable as possible, available to the non-technically-minded

Nart Villeneuve of Citizen Lab

censorship circumvention is global

multiple tools — knowing the specific threats you face will determine which tools you use

exporting of censorship — US companies develop censorship technology & sell it to govts. in other countries

technologies: circumvention vs. anonymity, hybrid tools, public vs. private, open source vs. proprietary, free vs. pay, web-based vs. client

a lot of circumvention tools get you to a blocked site but don’t necessarily shield your identity — have to know what you need and what you’re getting in terms of protection


aclu.org — privacy protection in general, not just online

multiple guides exist to help choose technology that works best for you

Isaac Mao, Digital Nomads project, China

censorship central to Chinese life — affects thoughts and actions (like what Au Wai Pang said about Singapore and psychology) even when ppl. leave country

three walls: free access, free speech, free thinking

have to work on technology, politics & media, and education/culture/self-censorship

in China, blog hosts “self-censor” bloggers

digital nomads: be independent, smart social hacking, backing by powerful Internet philosophy, collaborative & safe working model, foster freedom with “Sharism”

multiple services: co-location of hosting, CMS software installation, fast response to blocking, marketing with social media

$20 per year — pretty cheap (non-profit), no text ads on the hosted sites

his web site is isaacmao.com, also had notisaacmao.com to evade censorship

Robert Guerra, Privaterra, Cuba

mission: helping orgs understand threats of using technology (including mobile devices, internet)

technology policy — how govts. are limiting tech

issues: censorship (not just sites but e-mail), surveillance, hacking, blocking, take-down of sites

“portable spy that you have in your pocket” — cell phone

Danny O’Brien, Electronic Frontier Foundation

tools used for circumvention often developed in a way that’s opaque to the ppl using them, both culturally & geographically

so how to choose the tools you use?

decentralization power of the Internet: many tools are v. centralized (Google, for example) — can be threatening

stay away from commercial products when it comes to circumvention — Google’s product is data for advertisers, not gchat or spreadsheets, and they collect data about users continuously to sell

open source is like a person stripping naked — not hiding anything

GVO Summit, Day 1, Session 3: Living with Censorship

Cross-published on Global Voices.

The first day of the Global Voices Summit focused heavily on censorship and its effects on bloggers. Session three examined what bloggers and other netizens who live in countries with government censorship do to evade and combat it. The session was liveblogged by Jillian York.

Awab Alvi, co-founder of the Don’t Block the Blog campaign in Pakistan, moderated the session. Speaking were:


CJ Hinke opened the session with a brief overview of Internet censorship in Thailand. The first censorship law was passed in 1997. The law was intended to assist in the fight against the trafficking of women and children, but its terms were strict enough to open the door for more widespread filtering. In 2006, a new cybercrime law was passed that included the death penalty, a sentence later reduced to 20 years in prison.

Fifty thousand web sites are currently blocked in Thailand, CJ said. He questioned whether the number of sites matters and suggested that the principle is more important. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) is anti-all censorship, and they have struggled to find supporters because many people believe that sites that distribute child pornography, objectify women or promote hate speech should be blocked.

Middle East and North Africa

Helmi Noman followed CJ’s presentation by talking about the power shift that is currently taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As more and more people have access to the Internet, the power to regulate social, economic and political activity is shifting from authorities to individuals. Governments are responding by cracking down on Internet use.

Censorship in the MENA region takes several forms, Helmi said. Some sites are blocked or filtered. Download speeds in some countries are controlled, effectively blocking access to movies and music. Finally, Internet cafés are often subject to strict regulations about screen placement and partitioning, ensuring that users’ screens are visible to employees at all times.

Helmi Noman
Helmi Noman discusses Internet censorship in the Middle East and North Africa during the 2008 Global Voices Summit. Photo via madmonk.

Helmi noted that another obstacle to unfettered Internet use in the MENA area is social. Multiple studies and news articles have been released that focus on the negative effects, particularly the negative sexual consequences, of Internet on society. For example, one article claimed that many modern divorces are due to the amount of time men spend online looking at pornography.

There is some good news coming out of the region: multiple web sites now give tutorials on circumvention so users can access them after they are blocked. Yahoo! and other online groups are being used to exchange censored content, and a recent survey revealed that most Internet users in the region have used circumvention tools, especially proxy URLs, to access blocked sites.

Helmi ended his presentation by claiming that while filtering and censorship are problems in the MENA region, an even bigger issue is the digital divide. The gap between the actual and potential use of technology in the region is still large. Many people still lack Internet access, and those who do are clustered in urban areas.


John Kennedy used his presentation to inject hope and encouragement into the middle of an otherwise sober panel, focusing on several positive things happening online in China.

Among his examples was a mashup of air pollution in China [Zh], which is based on public records of pollution incidents and allows viewers to give feedback. Global Voices Zhang Shihe [Zh], a Chinese blogger who spent August 2007 bicycling through rural north central China to bring seldom-published stories from the area to the blogosphere via photo, video and written posts. Zhang began blogging out of frustration at the failure of Beijing police to properly document a murder crime scene, and continues to write about crime, the 2008 Olympics, and a variety of other topics.

Zhang Shihe
Chinese blogger Zhang Shihe on his month-long bicycle blogging tour through north central China. Photo via 24 Hours Online.

One of the most radical instances of blog activism in China took place after the house arrest and later imprisonment of environmental and political activist Hu Jia. While Hu was in jail, his wife Zeng Jinyan, who was documenting Hu’s detainment on her blog, was put under house arrest with the couple’s newborn child in the Freedom City housing complex in Beijing.

Hu and Zeng recorded the conditions of their surveillance in a documentary called “Prisoners in Freedom City,” which was published on YouTube:

The conditions of the house arrest were so severe as to endanger the health of Zeng and the child, and Chinese bloggers and activists rallied to deliver baby formula and other supplies. After several failed attempts, one blogger succeeded, using the couple’s documentary, Google Maps and blueprints of the building to hack past the surveillance system and deliver milk powder to Zeng. The entire process, including directions, security police license plate numbers, photos of the complex and a detailed description of the 24-hour mission, was compiled in a manual that quickly spread through the Chinese blogosphere.


In Bangladesh, Internet censorship is tied to the state of emergency instituted in January 2007, following riots and violence surrounding scheduled parliamentary elections. All criticism of the government is banned, and the press self-censors heavily, Rezwan reported. News of extrajudicial killings and detentions is rarely if ever published by the mainstream media, and several journalists have been arrested.

Bangla bloggers are fighting back, however, and a large citizen journalism community is publishing investigative reports online. Bloggers are so active, Rezwan said, that they were able to spread the news of the arrest of Tasneem Khalil, a former journalist and blogger, so efficiently that the government was forced to release him after one day. Rezwan pointed out that Global Voices broke the story to the international press and contributed to Khalil’s release.


Andrew Heavens spoke of his experiences in Ethiopia, where the only internet service provider is state-run, text messaging has been blocked since May 2005 and a blanket block on the entire Blogspot domain is in effect. “Censorship is not just the basic fact of having your voice silenced,” Andrew said, calling it a personal attack that is meant to limit and demoralize the person being censored, leading eventually to self-censorship.

Badge: This blog is blocked in EthiopiaAndrew sketched an outline of internet censorship in Ethiopia, which from 2004 to 2005 had a vibrant blogosphere. Protested elections in June 2005 led to mass arrests and police massacres, and the blogosphere exploded in anger. By May 2006, all Blogspot blogs were blocked. Initially, the block motivated bloggers. Many displayed “Blocked in Ethiopia” badges on their sites, and information on proxy servers and other methods of circumvention were shared between bloggers.

Within a few months, however, several formerly active bloggers had stopped writing, others had slowed, and the flow of new blogs had dried up. Andrew blamed this on the block and lamented the self-censorship the Ethiopian government’s actions have created. Even more aggravating, he said, is the fact that the government refuses to acknowledge the blocking, calling it a technical glitch.


The focus of Yazan Badran’s presentation was Tariq Biaisi [Ar], a Syrian blogger who was arrested for criticizing the Syrian security apparatus in an online forum, and detained for three years after being convicted of “weakening the national ethos.” The government reacted so strongly to the case that Razan Ghawazzi, originally schedule to give this presentation, closed her blog and moved to Lebanon. Bloggers and activists campaigned for Biaisi’s freedom via the Free Tariq movement, but the campaign was unsuccessful.

Free Tariq

Yazan credited the campaign’s failure to its inability to engage average Syrian citizens. The concepts of activism, volunteerism and freedom of speech the campaign was based on were not well-defined and have little meaning in Syrian society, he said. The bloggers working on the campaign were mostly living abroad, which lent an elitist feel to the movement.

Social and economic concerns also contributed to the general apathy surrounding Biaisi’s case, Yazan said. As an Islamist, Biaisi was not supported by a portion of the population. Many people wondered why they should support free speech when they were struggling to feed their families. Yazan concluded by conveying a comment from Razan, who believes that economic reform is the best way to strengthen support for free speech in Syria.

GVO Summit, Day 1, Session 2

Session 2 is on citizen media and online free speech.

Wael Abbas (MisrDigital, Egypt)

Egypt is a “democratic charade” — media subject to censorship, not allowed to start TV/radio station b/c state owns airwaves, closing newspapers, confiscating video/audio

“dire need for alternative source of media in Egypt that delivers information to the public, uncensored”

street protests not getting enough coverage (anti-govt), so bloggers started capturing it & delivering it to public — erasing line between blogger and journalist

blogging in Egypt helped jumpstart/lead print media — tackled taboo issues, exposed corruption — papers use info from bloggers

Christian blogger/bloggers organizing sit-ins/demos have been shut down

character assassination by govt on bloggers — accused of converting to Christianity, being gay

lots of YouTube use

Ory Okolloh, Kenya

covered post-election crisis in Kenya

media ban: blogging became more critical

the good: her blog wasn’t shut down, no official censorship (perhaps b/c govt. didn’t know or wasn’t sophisticated enough to shut down), Kenyans generally able to blog freely

activists needed mobile phone credit during election crisis — had doubled in price, was being used as currency — shows importance of SMS/phones

journalists were contacting bloggers and having them publish information (both b/c of ban and because they were worried about govt. reaction)

tried to distinguish between fact & gossip — lots of reports coming in during crisis

opened blog to comments — gave access to ppl who weren’t experienced bloggers

the bad: a lot of self-censorship in blogging community, partisanship, trying to be neutral — affected tone of debate/credibility, voicing opinion can offend some people who might stop following information, internet access harder to get b/c mobility restricted by violence, phone credit expensive so Twittering hard — have to choose between Twitter and talking to family

had to moderate comments for the first time — comments intense and prolific, some threatening (and sexually violent: threats of rape, etc.) — did fear for safety

Internet became a tool for Kenyans in diaspora

good work that some bloggers were doing was overshadowed by hate speech from others

Ushahidi — developed to track post-election violence

Au Wai Pang (Alex), Singapore

involved in gay rights movement in Singapore

Internet mostly uncensored in Singapore, but ppl act like it’s not — “psychology trumps technology” — how to overcome this?

media, trade unions both govt. controlled, detention w/o trial (up to 29 years), opposition members sued for libel

many people live comfortably — don’t think censorship is a big deal; focus is on career instead of politics/social issues

peer pressure: family, company pressure you not to speak out

govt. suspicious of Internet but doesn’t censor b/c Singapore is business/financial center

how to alter psychology? ppl. need to participate offline, anonymity won’t change society

Oiwan Lam, Hong Kong

political/historical context of censorship of “indecent” content in HK — HK one of most “sexually repressive” places in the world

colonial regime: public order ordinance, restricted freedoms of speech and assembly, ordinances controlling “indecencies” usually prompted by local govt.

“sexy photo gate” — netizen detained for 2 weeks w/o bail for publishing photos deemed “indecent”

statue of David classified as indecent

Amine, Morocco

YouTube video of police taking bribes from drivers (maker of video calls self “Targuist Sniper”) — in response, Morocco created anti-corruption commission, arrested several policemen

but then, tried to find Targuist Sniper — arrested multiple people known to be internet-savvy, but while they were in jail, more videos were posted (oops)

is govt. reaction part of deep authoritarianism or more a misunderstanding of technology?

videos viewed by more than 1.5 million ppl on YouTube, almost 3.5 million if you count repostings of videos

other ppl started emulating tactic (in TanTan, Nador, Casablanca)

Morocco not “notoriously repressive,” but it does have a strange relationship to Internet — doesn’t block blogs, but it is wary of web 2.0 tools (YouTube blocked for several days in 2007, Google Maps blocked for past 2 years)

Fouad Mourtada put in prison for posting a fake Facebook profile of the king’s brother — one of the questions he got during interrogation was, “why did you invent Facebook.com?” — shows clear lack of understanding of Internet

Moroccan govt. denied protests, broadcast interviews that claimed everything was pleasant — YouTube videos of violence contradicted official line

hard to know how govt. perceives Internet, but recently published magazine article says web 2.0 is “source of interference” between govt. and public, blogs have undeclared intentions and are published w/o rules or professionalism

Hamid, Iran

Iranian censorship, both on- and offline, has increased in last few years: he joked that it creates jobs

Iranian govt. announced that 10 million sites have been blocked, 90% for immoral content (including photos of Nicole Kidman)

blogs by women heavily filtered

Note: You can also watch a live feed of the summit, follow those who are twittering from it, look at the slides, and check out the photos and live blog.

GVO Summit, Day 1, Session 1

I’m in Budapest this weekend for the 2008 Global Voices Citizen Media Summit. You can watch a live feed of the summit, follow those who are twittering from it, look at the slides, and check out the photos and live blog.

Some quick notes from the first session on working toward a global anti-censorship network (typing quickly, will come back and edit later):

Andrei Abozau, Belarus

situation in Belarus: “Big Brother is watching you”

(note: more about censorship/filtering in Belarus available through the OpenNet Initiative)

censorship hurting legal business activities

the more that is known about censorship, the less the govt. will be able to oppress

Alaa Abdel Fatah, Egypt

Egypt using courts to block free speech (as opposed to technical Internet censorship)

Facebook activist tortured, both to get him to stop & to get him to give up his password

creating atmosphere of fear to induce self-censorship

vid of protest, not shown on TV (including BBC) — ppl trying to tear down poster of president mubarak: “it was filmed by phone camera. i love nokia.”

if you want to help free speech in Egypt, you can’t be isolated from bigger struggle (of govt. repression/torture)

blogs document torture w/photos, personal accounts

blogger documenting factory polluting lake w/industrial waste — company took him to court for libel (libel laws designed by govt. to protect govt. — can spend 3 yrs in prison for libel)

there is due process, perfectly legal, doesn’t look like censorship/oppression — still bad b/c consequence is bad, not b/c process is bad

process can be painful, can be arrested during trial — enough pressure to create self-censorship

international trend for internet censorship through courts — most free speech advocates don’t know how to handle, assume that courts & rule of law are both good

* do bloggers need legal help from outside their countries?
* are bloggers above the law? do they make mistakes, or should we always support them when they’re taken to court?

Chris Salzberg, Japan

Japan different from other examples b/c Internet is mostly open

what does censorship mean in Japan? filtering content seen as harmful to society (not just child porn, but other things)

copyright legislation — want to make it illegal to download, not just upload

mobile phone access — already being filtered in japan for ppl. under 18

bill just passed (June 11th): PC makers must pre-install national filtering software on PCs & phones

GLBT & political & religion -based content filtered for ppl under 18

filtering seen as social issue (not political) — parents worried about kids, mobile phone access

support for regulation in japan quite high (76% support filtering “harmful content”)

opposition strategies: regulation will stop innovation, creativity — japan will be left behind/outcompeted, proposals are technologically contradictory

oppression not seen as govt. thing — people (death threats, net bullying, obscenity, copyright violation)

Awab Alvi, Pakistan (Don’t Block the Blog)

strategies for getting around massive blogspot block in Pakistan: proxy servers (pkblogs.com), javascript & greasemonkey

lots of aggregation: bloggers.pk, vid.pk

Musharraf attacked judicial system — overthrew 60 judges, blocked TV, arrested journalists — citizen/online media replacing papers/TV

SMS/text messaging has great potential — cheaper and more widely available than computers/online blogging, need to focus on building mobile community