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Clinton Urges Web Freedom January 22, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
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Boo China, yay Web neutrality! Fasten your belts for the “next great global battle of ideas!” Depending on which side of the great firewall you’re on, the “iconic infrastructure of our age” will be the site for a cyber showdown.

And that’s to ensure that the Web remains “a tool of openness, opportunity, expression, and possibility rather than of one of control, surveillance, suppression.”

American State Secretary Hillary Clinton underlined that reality when she called for an unfettered Internet and delivered a tongue lashing to China in an impassioned policy speech at the Newseum journalism museum in Washington.

Read entire transcript of Clinton’s speech here. The virtual volleys have begun, with China slamming the speech as “information imperialism.” Read the rebuff on China’s foreign ministry Website here.

We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship.

We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State

That America’s top diplomat champions “freedom to connect” as a basic human right is a huge stake, especially when the US State Department is funding the development of tools to help Web users circumvent government censorship online.

Poised to be the Web’s first diplomat, Hillary Clinton has jumped right into the fray of the Google vs China spat, calling Web curbs the modern equivalent of the Berlin Wall and warning of a new information curtain descending on the world.

It’s fascinating how Google’s corporate move has turned into an international incident. Web freedom has joined trade imbalances, currency values, human rights and Tibet among the quarrels straining ties between the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies.

Clinton’s call for global condemnation of those who conduct cyber attacks is an important opportunity to counter governments who want to censor and conduct surveillance on individuals. The challenge is how the State Department will walk the talk by incorporating Web freedom into diplomacy, trade policy, and meaningful pressure on companies to act responsibly.

The speech is a huge stake in net neutrality and its meaning cannot be overstated. The Web was born and nurtured in America, with input from other countries. Now a top US official and arguably the most prominent female political figure is seeking to shape the Web’s evolving ethos and guiding principles.

In parts of the Middle East, women are beaten and killed in “honor” beatings by relatives who find out they are using sites like Twitter and Facebook. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are among countries that censor the Web or harass bloggers. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China.

Early in her primary campaign, Clinton was considered less Web-savvy than Barack Obama and online attack ad that spread on YouTube foreshadowed the narrative of her fight for the Democratic nomination, portraying Clinton as the old PC and Obama as the shiny new Mac.

The YouTube video, which mashes up Apple’s 1984 ad with Hillary Clinton’s own campaign imagery.

Clinton is now leading the way within the Obama administration in recognizing the transformational opportunities of the Internet. Speaking in broad strokes and finer details, she outlined what she called the five key freedoms of the Internet age: Freedom to connect online anywhere. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from fear of cyber attacks.

Of course that didn’t sit well with the “What Internet censorship?” crowd on the other side of the planet. There’s an argument that the technical architecture of the Web is different from the values of people who use it. If parents can limit what teenagers can see, then governments can limit what citizens see. If citizens can circumvent governments, teenagers will be able to circumvent parents.

But we’re talking about a generation of citizens who have never typed the words “Falun Gong,” “Dalai Lama,” or “Tiananmen Square massacre” into their search engines. Information openness for them is just a crack in a dark room without electricity.

A Chinese flag flutters near the Google logo on top of Google’s China headquarters in Beijing.

The blowback against Google’s announcement that it was hacked by Chinese cyber agents – and in response would be lifting the restrictions that keep users of its Chinese search engine in the dark – has been fascinating. Clinton upped the ante by calling for global Internet freedom.

When Google threw down the gauntlet to China’s Web censors, it also challenged the loyalties of the nation’s wired generation. Tech-savvy Chinese in their 20s and 30s grew up in greater affluence and openness than their parents. Many are pulled between patriotic pride and a yearning for more say over their own lives.

The Google dispute may become a telling test of how China’s wired generation balance loyalties to their country with their desire for free expression and access to information, and this response could shape how Beijing handles the dispute.

The Obama administration has shown it wants to court this emerging generation of connected Chinese. China’s latest survey of Web use found 60 percent of the nation’s online population of 384 million was aged 10 to 29.

Despite censorship, China’s Internet can be a potent public forum, with bloggers and amorphous online groups hectoring the government over pollution and corruption. Last year, the government abruptly abandoned a plan to force all new personal computers to come with a copy of “Green Dam” Internet-filtering software that had been derided by online critics as intrusive and ineffective.

Related reads
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are Tools for Diplomacy.
China Slam’s Clinton’s Internet Speech as Information Imperialism
China rebuffs US Internet demands
Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC?


Google Stands up To China January 16, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video.
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At last Google is taking on Beijing. The search giant is “phasing out” censoring the results in google.cn, the Chinese-language version of its famed search engine.

In a post in The Future of the Internet, Jonathan Zittrain notes that the announcement of “A new approach to China” is a stunning move both in its fact and execution. It includes a link to the story of GhostNet, discovered by fellow ONI researchers when the Dalai Lama gave them his oddly-acting laptop to examine.

Companies rarely share information about the cyberattacks they experience — conventional wisdom has it that it makes the company appear vulnerable, and drives customers away. Here Google is open about the attacks, and links them to a lessening of enthusiasm for doing business in China. Eliminating censorship in google.cn is only mentioned after that.

Suppose the Chinese government acts as expected and tells Google that it may no longer operate in China. Google.cn might vanish as a domain name, since it’s hosted under the Chinese country-code TLD of .cn, ultimately controllable by the Chinese government.

But the search engine found they could of course keep operating from a different location, like cn.google.com. Suppose then that China attempts to filter out traffic to and from that new location — and to and from google.com for good measure, as it has done from time to time, especially before the advent of google.cn and its agreement to censor.

Google engineers who might have been a bit halfhearted about implementing censorship mandates in google.cn could be full-throttle in coming up with ways for Google to be viewed despite any network interruptions between site and user.

There are lots of unexplored options here. They’re unexplored not because they’re infeasible, but because most sites would rather not provoke a government that filters. So they don’t undertake to get information out in ways that might evade blockages.

But then, the difference between values and technology is it works for citizens in China seeking human rights, it works for teenagers in America seeking porn.

Here, Google would have nothing more to lose, so could pioneer some new approaches. Circumvention of filtering (or other blockages, for that matter) tends to happen on the user side of things, seeking out proxies like the Tor network, or anonymizer.com.

The larger benefits of operating in China originally cited by Google four years ago — exposing the citizenry to services beyond those locally grown and monitored; engaging them beyond the “China Wide Web” to which some government officials aspire to limit them; and gaining market share that can create momentum and support for later loosening of restrictions — may attenuate.

Google.cn is less known and used than, say, the local Baidu search engine, which boasts about 60% market share. That share is about to get even bigger.

But drawing a line is both the right move and a brilliant one. It helps realign Google’s business with its ethos, and masterfully recasts the firm in a place it will feel more comfortable: supporting the free and open dissemination of information rather than metering it out according to undesirable (and capricious) government standards.

Twitterers Defy Tiananmen Ban June 4, 2009

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video, YouTube.
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Twitterers proved that there are ways to get round the great firewall of China on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen killings. Authorities in China had blocked social networking sites like Twitter and Flickr in an attempt to stop online discussion on the subject.


The Tiananmen anniversary is one of the hottest Twitter topics by users in China. Those too young to have personal memories of 1989 forwarded link to articles in foreign media or simply re-tweeted other people’s posts.

The wide reach of sites like Facebook, which remains accessible, are providing curious students with information they were previously denied. Fans of Tank Man – the man who stood in front of the tanks in the iconic photograph of the protests – were free to remember those who took part and victims of the crackdown.

China bans discussion of the events in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989, when troops quelled weeks of protest by students and workers. Beijing has never released a death toll on what it calls the “4 June incident.” Hundreds are believed to have died in and around the square.


In the anonymity of the online world, Web-savvy youths use mirror sites and proxy servers to explore alternative versions of the official history and to discuss their government’s clumsy efforts at censorship. With YouTube and several blog-hosting websites permanently blocked, advice on how to access Twitter via a proxy, VPN (virtual private network) or Hotspot shield spread around quickly.

Links to photos of policemen blocking the lenses of foreign journalists with their umbrellas was a popular tweet. Many tweets on unrelated topics carried the subject Tiananmen. People typed Tiananmen on every post so the topic is within the 10 most popular on Twitter.

Related posts:
How the Chinese reported Tiananmen
China Blocks Twitter, Flickr, Others as Tiananmen Anniversary Looms
Tiananmen killings: Was the media right?
BBC audio slideshow: Tiananmen Square

China Found Filtering Skype Messages October 5, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, News, Social Media.
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A group of Canadian human-rights activists and computer security researchers has found that China monitors and censors messages sent through the Internet service Skype. Citizen Lab says it discovered a huge surveillance system last month that monitors and archives certain Web text conversations that include politically charged words.

The researchers found a database with thousands of politically sensitive words which had been blocked by China. In just two months, the servers archived more than 166,000 censored messages from 44,000 users, according to the report on the Information Warfare Monitor.

The list included words such as “democracy” and “Tibet” as well as phrases relating to banned spiritual movement, Falun Gong, Taiwan independence and the Chinese Communist Party. It also had words like earthquake and milk powder. Chinese officials are facing criticism in their handling of earthquake relief and chemicals tainting milk powder.

These text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information, are stored on insecure publicly accessible Web servers. By using one username, it was possible to identify all the people who had sent messages to or received them from the original user.

Skype, operated in China as Tom-Skype, a joint venture of American auction site, eBay and Chinese company TOM-Online, said it was concerned by breaches in the security of the site. Citizen Lab said it was “clear” that Tom was “engaging in extensive surveillance with seemingly little regard for the security and privacy of Skype users”.

China is not alone in Web spying efforts. The US National Security Agency was reported to have monitored telephone and Internet communications into and out of America as part of the eavesdropping program to hunt for evidence of terrorist activity after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Web use is high in China, but authorities have long prevented citizens from accessing sites deemed politically sensitive. Web companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been criticised by human-rights groups for adhering to China’s strict regulations.

Olympic Web of Deceit and Complicity July 30, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Journalism, News.
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Just days to the Beijing Olympics, Chinese authorities are showing a paranoia that could end up scoring an own goal. One shouldn’t be surprised that the first winners are Web censorship and a betrayal. But one should be outraged that the International Olympic Committee was in cahoots.

Which begs the question – who’s in charge here? Sure, the IOC would want to give the impression it was consulted on matters Olympian. But was it really in the know that the Beijing organizers would go back on their word?

Foreign journalists covering the Olympics find Web access restricted.

In bidding for the games, Chinese officials promised media would have complete freedom. Today they reneged, saying authorities would only guarantee “sufficient” Internet access for accredited media.

An IOC spokesman says it knew China would break its promise to allow unfettered Internet access to foreign reporters covering the Beijing Games. Press commission chairman Kevan Gosper said IOC officials “had negotiated with China that some sensitive Web sites would be blocked” at Olympic venues because they were unrelated to the games.

Oops, what’s happening here? Just two weeks ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge cited free internet access as an achievement of his “silent diplomacy” with Chinese officials. In an interview with AFP, he insisted, “For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China.”

What a total humiliation of the IOC, and a mockery of the core values of the Games. Which reminds me of the gloat – I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. This state of affairs would be unthinkable in Olympics in Athens, but times have changed. A booming economy and money to be made can distract and persuade one to kowtow on Web access.

Some 20,000 foreign journalists are affected by China’s backflip. They cannot access Web sites for the human rights group Amnesty International, the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Also inaccessible are the websites for foreign media, such as the BBC’s Chinese-language service, the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily and the Taiwan-based Liberty Time.

The blocked sites will make it difficult for journalists to retrieve information, particularly on political and human rights stories the government dislikes. Journalists trying to use the Web complained about slow speeds and suspect a ploy to discourage use.

This games is a chance for Beijing to communicate with the world about its vision of the future, as envisioned in this leaked clip of the opening ceremony. The whole world is watching. Surely these guys know by now that everything has a way of finding its way to the Web?

This is the latest in a list of issues to have tarnished the run-up to the Olympics, which start on August 8, following controversies over pollution, human rights and terrorism threat. The Olympics have always been political, but probably none have been as wrapped up with national pride and global prestige as Beijing’s.

For a culture so hung up on image, the images that would speak of a First World China will not be the monuments or the medals that show athletes with yellow skin can run as fast as those with black and white skin. The image will be that caught and seen around the Web of a China in the glare of global media.

The ruling Communist party has stressed the need to use the Internet to “correctly guide” public opinion. Just two weeks ago, Chinese President Hu Jintao described the Web as “the battlefield forward position for the propagation of advanced socialist culture.”

It’s unclear whether the IOC might challenge Beijing’s interpretation of “sufficient” Internet access. The IOC maintains the Olympics are a sports event, and it should not intervene in politics. The Swiss-based body has been faulted for failing to hold China to promises made to win the bid.

Update August 1 2008:
IOC President Jacques Rogge said there had been “no deal to accept restrictions” on access. At a news conference in Beijing, Rogge said the IOC required journalists “to have the fullest possible access to report on the Olympic Games”. Asked if the IOC had been naive on the Internet issue, Rogge said: “I would say we are idealists. Idealism is linked with some naivety.”

Depends where you’re coming from Jacques. Naivete has no place in journalism. Skepticism rules. That’s why Reporters Without Borders advises journalists working in China to lock computer files and find safe translators. They should conduct phone calls and write e-mails knowing that they may be monitored.

Advice for foreign journalists during Beijing Games.
Learn how China monitors the Web: China and Internet Censorship

Related read:
IOC denies deal on internet curbs

Chinese Premier Wows on Facebook May 28, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, News, Reviews, Social Media, Trends, Web Video.
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It helps when you’re the leader of 1.3 billion people and you put your popularity on the line online. Flush from the accolades for his sympathetic response to the Sichuan earthquake, Chinese leader Wen Jiabao has gone Web 2.0 with a profile on Facebook.

You can be friends with Grandpa Wen, the moniker for China’s 66-year-old premier who has always cultivated a populist image unlike many of the Communist Party’s aloof leaders. And with 15,000 Facebook ‘supporters’ as of this writing, he’s more popular than US President Bush on the social networking site.

As the face of China’s grief, Wen’s knack for looking sympathetic has won him supporters offline. Hours after the quake hit Sichuan province, he was on the scene with a bullhorn. TV cameras followed him for days as he tried to comfort children and put on a hard hat to enter a collapsed building.

Wen Jiabao at ground zero in Sichuan

Full of laudatory comments, the Facebook page was set up two days after the 12 May quake. It has photos of Wen walking through the rubble, comforting victims and breathless posts such as: ‘I love you, oh my God,’ ‘A model Premier for the world!’ and “Go Grandpa Wen! Go China!”

The profile creator had uploaded a mournful “We Are The World” – style music video that interspersed horrific images of the quake’s aftermath with shots of musicians wearing white T-shirts with “5-12” printed on them.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao

Facebook lets users create personal profiles. The page appears to have been set up recently though it’s not clear whether it’s the work of Wen himself, a government official or someone with no ties to the premier. The page bears the official government photo of Wen in a gray suit.

The Chinese leader is one of hundreds of politicians on Facebook. He joins Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and every major US presidential hopeful who have Facebook pages. The site has a section where users can ‘Browse All Politicians’ and see them ranked by their number of ‘supporters.’

Twittering the China Earthquake May 14, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
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Devotees of the micro-messaging service Twitter watched the news unfold before their eyes as a 7.8 magnitude struck Sichuan province in China at 2:28 pm (0628 GMT) on Monday. The “Twitterati” got the news even before networks like Singapore-based Channel NewsAsia, CNN, MSNBC, BBC or the earthquake tracking US Geological Survey had the information.

This is a major disaster the horror of which is only just unfolding. While mainstream media scrambled to put up their “breaking news” headlines of the deadly catastrophe which has killed well over 20,000 people, Twitter had pictures, maps, videos all being sent in real-time. Here’s a glance at Twitter search site SUMMIZE and real-time results for “earthquake”

Micro-blogging outshone mainstream news as the earth shook with tragic consequences because people who felt the quake in China used their mobile phones to dash out “twitter” text messages as events unfolded, via the service provided by San Francisco-based Twitter Inc.

While it is stretching the imagination to suggest that the “Twitterati” knew of the earthquake before the US Geological Survey, Twitter reportedly became a source of information for major news organisations covering the earthquake. Twitterers became a bridge between the Chengdu-based Twitterati and mainstream media:

CNN’s John Vause in Beijing: 900 school children in Sichuan buried; 3000 troops and helicopters, Wen Jiabao on their way. ANDREW LIH (fuzheado)

BBC says 100 confirmed dead and rising. MICHAEL DARRAGH (michaeldarragh)

Here are more Twitter posts:

Slightly dizzy after being shaken around by the Chengdu earthquake for several hours now. CASPERODJ

At home in fact, cooking dinner and getting on with things. Just had another aftershock though.

Twitters are abbreviated text messages that can be instantly posted on online bulletin boards and personal websites and sent to the mobiles of selected friends. They were at the forefront of a gush of quake pictures and video swiftly posted online via Yahoo’s Flickr, Google’s YouTube.

Here’s how information spreads like wildfire on Twitter. First responder Robert Scoble a blogger, who was on the news into the early hours of the morning, was transferring news from the more than 21,180 people he follows to the 23,200 people following him. In turn, many of those folks would re-tweet (the term used to describe a message being re-sent out) the news to their followers.

Twitter was launched in March 2006 to let people share their every move with friends every moment of the day. Twitter users get a maximum of 140 characters a message. Ironically Twitter designer Biz Stone envisioned its potential as a communication tool by a ‘tweet’ warning he received about a California earthquake while about to board a train last year.

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