Posts tagged ‘freedom of speech’


The big difference with the internet of the ’90s: it served the many, not the few

11.09.2016


Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.

There’s a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the “napalm girl” photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so ‘under penalty of perjury’ on the form.
   Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. I’ve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. It’s damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and it’s rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
   Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
   This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that they’re only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then that’s what they’ll show in their results. There’s little freshness online as a result, which is why people aren’t as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
   Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if you’re the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then you’ll pop up regularly in the search results’ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isn’t just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
   It makes the ’net a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We don’t really want to surf casually as we once did because we don’t learn anything new: it’s harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
   There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I don’t get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Google’s index size remains unbeatable.
   What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but I’m not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have found—so if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you don’t catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. It’s not geared to search.
   Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree with—and that’s a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Google’s approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanct—and all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
   So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now it’s equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
   We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isn’t nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
   Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they don’t need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
   It’s high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, interests, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


If Facebook says you have malware, do not download their program—here’s a way around it

03.01.2016

An interesting weekend on Facebook. Despite regaining access, I’m not allowed to post links (with the accusation that my computer is infected—see above), and after considerable research, I know this to be completely untrue. The Facebook malware accusations are targeted at certain users and, from the tiny sample of four that have responded to me, we are all heavy users. Just as I theorized back in June 2014 when Facebook shut down for me for 69 hours, some of us have reached a limit on their servers.
   Boffins, and Facebook, say that that’s impossible, but there have been countless signs of that over the years. Most were recorded on Get Satisfaction before Facebook shut down that community (how convenient). Among them were things such as Facebook being unable to show me every video I had uploaded—the list began at 2011 and earlier ones were omitted—and the many occasions where I could no longer post, comment, like or share. There’s a direct parallel to my experiences on the former Vox.com, which Six Apart confirmed in 2009 and which they had no official answer for.
   What’s the best course of action if Facebook accuses you of malware and forces you to download one of their programs from Trend Micro, F-Secure or Kaspersky? Delete your cookies. Once you do that, you can regain access, though, like me, you’ll have a limited account where link-sharing is impossible. Initially, I was able to share a few links after my accessing Facebook, but it eventually became a blanket block, with the odd one getting through (two a day in my case).
   If you want to be extra-safe, run the free version of Malware Bytes. The free one won’t conflict with your existing antivirus set-up (I’m not trying to do Malware Bytes out of money), but, like the rest of us, you’ll likely discover that your system is clean.
   One woman got around this by downloading a new browser, although she was also limited on the link-posting.
   Whatever you do, do not listen to these big firms. Facebook, Google et al are, as I’ve been documenting over the years, particularly deceptive. I’ve still had to deal with the remnants of Facebook’s scan switching off McAfee, nearly two days later.
   Facebook’s apparently had many complaints about this since 2014, so I’m hardly the first to encounter it. Blaming malware for their own databasing issues is cheap, but enough people will believe it—even with my mistrust of these big Silicon Valley firms I still did their malware scan, not thinking I had a choice if I wanted to access the site again. What it really did during the scan is anyone’s guess.
   I’d rather they come clean and tell people: you are allowed x posts a day, x links a day, and x photos and videos a day. I can work around that. But if they came clean about this and the number of click-farm workers and bots plaguing the site, what will that do to their share price?
   And isn’t it ironic I can presently share more, and have more freedom of speech, on Weibo, monitored by the Chinese Communist Party?

PS.: As of the last week of April, I have had two reports that deleting cookies does not work, but switching browsers does. Facebook appears to find a way to identify you, your regular browser and your IP address together, without cookies.

P.PS.: Mid-May, and from my other thread on this topic, in the post-postscripts: ‘Andrew McPherson was hit with this more recently, with Facebook blocking the cookie-deleting method in some cases, and advises, “If you get this, you will need to change your Facebook password to something very long (a phrase will do), delete and clear your browsers cache and history, then delete your browser, then renew your IP address to a different number and then reinstall your browsers.” If you cannot change your IP address but are using a router, then he suggests refreshing the address on that. Basically, Facebook is making it harder and harder for us to work around their bug. Once again, if you sign on using a different account using the same “infected” computer, there are no problems—which means the finger of blame should remain squarely pointed at Facebook.’

P.P.PS.: June 17: as detailed at my other post, for those who might find Andrew’s method too technical, the current wisdom is to wait it out. It does appear to take days, however. Reminds me of the time Facebook stopped working for me for 69 hours in 2014. Do not download Facebook’s crap.

P.P.P.PS.: November 30: it appears waiting it out is the best option for those who don’t want to mess around under the bonnet. Shawn Picker, in the comments, says to expect a five-day wait.

P.P.P.P.PS.: May 9, 2017: On the other post on this subject on my blog, a user called David suggested modifying your headers and to fool Facebook into thinking you are using another type of device. In comment no. 66 below, Stephan confirms that it works and gives more details about it. Check it out!

P.P.P.P.P.PS.: October 24: Again in the other thread on this topic, Don Dalton found that he was able to replace his Chrome profile with an older one to bypass Facebook’s block. Have a read of his comment here.

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Posted in China, internet, technology, USA | 234 Comments »


An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

29.09.2014

Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
   I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
   Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
   I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
   And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
   Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
   Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
   He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
   Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
   I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
   The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
   Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
   The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
   Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
   Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
   They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
   While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
   It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
   Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
   It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
   Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
   This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
   Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
   It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
   That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
   Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
   One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
   Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
   Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
   I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
   The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
   The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
   Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
   And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
   Taiwan, too, will be watching.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, politics | 1 Comment »