Event Summary: “Hacktivists, Cyberwarriors and International Relations”

In recent weeks, the International Relations Society hosted a conference on Hacktivism at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. Given the event’s focus on social action via the Internet, a few members from the Boler Research Team attended. Here is a quick summary of some of the highlights.

How secure are we online?
The keynote address from the Citizen Lab‘s Ron Diebert, emphasized how we must not take technology at face value. Diebert urged that citizens in the digital age need to question where their data goes (when you send an email, who can see it, besides just you and the recipient?) Increasingly, Diebert concluded, this will mean questioning the authorities who control these systems of information and content-sharing platforms.

Along with his talk, he provided URLs to further demonstrate the current status of cyberspace. Some of the URLs presented are as follows:

  • Wired Magazine – Do the Ends Justify The Means?
    Article on Internet Censorship and the Internet Censorship Explorer developed by Deibert’s team to bypass Internet-blocking schemes
  • Yahoo Terms of Service Agreement
    Highlighted that Yahoo service agreement grants foreign countries with permission to collect and use personal  data: “You understand that through your use of the Service you consent to the collection and use (as set forth in the Privacy Policy) of this information, including the transfer of this information to the United States and/or other countries for storage, processing and use by Yahoo! and its affiliates.”
  • Who Has your Back (by the Electronic Frontier Foundation)
    Non-profit that analyzes major provider including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Skype for their commitment to defending our personal digital rights by evaluating the following 4 criteria: tell users about data demands, be transparent about government requests, fight for user privacy in courts, fights for user privacy in congress
  • The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook
    An info graphic depicting the changes in default profile settings over time
  • It’s 2AM. What Are Your Apps Doing?
    An info graphic depicting the activity of apps behind the scenes; approximately 97% of users do not know the risks associated with their apps
  • Behind Blue Coat: Investigations of Commercial Filtering in Syria and Burma
    Recent report released by the Citizen Lab on the use of commercial filtering products in authoritarian regimes

Hacktivism and Democracy-Building. Good or Bad? 

One of the panels featured Dr. Gabriela Coleman, and Dr. Stefania Milan discussing the pros and cons of  Hacktivism for a democratic society.

Dr. Coleman started things off with a presentation that was more performance art than panel chat, on the “Aphorisms of Anonymous”. Her presentation briefly tracked the history of Anonymous, the now-infamous loosely-associated hacker network. She then drew on aphorisms by Nietzche, like “Nothing succeeds if prankishness has no part in it,” to describe different elements of Anonymous as a movement (a massive movement of tricksters, when looking at it in this context).  Her talk really brought to life the different ways in which “trollish” behaviour might also be powerful, important for democratic aims, but also the paradox in that Anonymous seeks to expose state secrecy, but is a highly secretive movement in itself.

Next, Dr. Milan took the podium, explaning how hacktivism is not only “good for” democracy, but might be seen as a form of democracy in itself, as it could be conceived of as a method of “protest”. She spoke about the way in which hacktivism was challenging prior assumptions about political activism, especially by decoupling the notion of “resistance” with physical presence. According to Dr. Milan, there is much to be learned from such groups as Anonymous, as they point the broader public to a new model of cyber activism.

**The real takeaway for our purposes from this panel, was, as Dr. Milan put it “we cannot afford to raise our kids without the knowledge of these systems”. Here, she was referring to a more intimate knowledge of how the Internet functions and also what benefits and risks are associated with using it for activist purposes. Dr. Coleman emphasized that computing knowledge is power and this led to a discussion around the importance of teaching coding especially, so that the next generations stay connected to the languages that make up the internet.**

Written by Averie MacDonald (@averiemac) & Jennie Phillips (@drchangelove)

The “Colbert Bump”

American Political Science Association has discovered that Democratic politicians that go on the Colbert Report get a spike in donations following their appearance. This effect is called the “Colbert Bump.”

His analysis finds that Democrats who appear on The Colbert Report enjoy a significant increase in the number and total amount of donations they receive over the next 30–40 days when compared to similar candidates who do not appear on the show. Specifically, Democrats who come on the program raise $8,247 more than colleagues who don’t do so on the 32nd day following their appearance—“a bump of roughly two-fifths over the normal rate of receipts.” Republicans do not appear to benefit at all from appearing on the program; notably, they raise more funds in the month before coming on the program while actually raising less money in the month following their appearance—hinting at a possible “Colbert bust” for the GOP instead.

While conceding that it is “important not to read too much into these results” Fowler does also state that “one might be tempted to dismiss the importance of the Colbert bump because it is just money.” Clearly, political fundraising is done for a purpose and the most important consequence of any bump is whether Colbert candidates win elections. With only the 2006 elections having been completed since The Colbert Report came on the air, the upcoming 2008 elections will likely provide greater insight into this interesting and humorous wrinkle in modern American politics.

Helping the almost journalists be journalists

Dan Gilmour, author of We The Media, has an article on the Center for Citizen Media about the future of journalism lying in the helping of what he terms as “almost-journalists” doing actual journalism. He points to organizations such as the ACLU or Human Rights Watch, uncovering gross instances of abuse as examples of very successful “almost-journalism”.

He writes:”They are absolutely in the media field now, because they are using the tools of media creation to learn and tell stories, and to make those stories available to a wide audience. These organizations and countless others like them — small and large, local and international — are part of the media ecosystem. With just a little extra effort, they could be part of the journalistic ecosystem too, in ways that go far beyond their traditional roles.”

Gilmour believes that helping these kinds of organizations remove the almost from their names will lead to a boon in credible news sources for the public.

via boingboing

Media ownership in the USA

Neatorama has put together some graphics that illustrate what large corporations control in the television media. It’s rather scary seeing how only a few companies control how much of what we see and hear. I’m sure that it becomes a nightmare when radio, newspapers, and the internet are included.

Here’s the graphic that shows what General Electric owns:

GE TV ownership

To see more check it out who owns what on television at Neatorama.

Does anybody know if this has been done for Canada? I’d love to see it!

New On Youtube Today: Encouraging Citizen Journalism

The Youtube blog announced today the start of a new kind of channel: The Reporter Channel.

Touting the media revolution, the channels are for:

  • People who tote around their cameras offering “on-the-scene” coverage of local news and events
  • Students producing their own weekly newscasts
  • Active community members who conduct interviews with local leaders
  • Engaged citizens who love providing commentary and analysis on important issues affecting the world at large
  • Professional journalists using YouTube as an additional outlet for their work

Is this truly a revolution in democracy? Is it Youtube further monetizing it’s future? I think it has to be satisfy both cultural and economic orders in order to function within the metanarrative netizens use.

CBC sharing news footage

The Edmonton Sun is reporting that the CBC has inked a deal with Global to share some media resources. The editorial that covers this raises questions about how a government-funded broadcaster ought to act with private broadcasters and how the CBC should treat other institutions owned by the crown.

Something is rotten when government institutions cut deals with certain media, but not others.

Two cases in point: A marketing “exclusive” between the Royal Alberta Museum and the Edmonton Journal, and “video sharing” between Edmonton CBC-TV and Global.

In return for discounted rates, the Royal Alberta Museum promises promotion and advertising exclusively with the Journal.

If the museum wasn’t government, I’d have no problem with the concept. Advertising “exclusivity” happens all the time. Media outlets are forever competing to be “exclusive presenters” of popular events.

But the museum is 100% government, part of the provincial Department of Culture and Community Spirit.

Why is the government of Alberta cutting exclusive deals with one media, but not the rest?

At the very least, sharing the same media and news source can lead to hilarious fake stories that “news” agency will cover.
Via Inside the CBC