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Social graphs are important. Facebook's near exclusive access to the world's connected population has bothered me for a long time. I do not think Facebook in the United States today is what the IBM's subsidiary Hollerith was to Germany in 1933, but with the increased use of National Security Letters in the United States (whose jurisdiction Facebook is subject to), the "bewildering tangle of options" to manage my privacy on Facebook, and the increased responsibility I have to people whose privacy and security is paramount, Facebook is a personal and professional liability.
Over the past few months, I have been reducing the content Facebook hosted for me. I thought it might allow the "Download Your Info" function (the ability for you to download things such as contacts, messages, photos, and items you posted on Facebook) to actually work. After a half dozen attempts, it never did. Someday, I thought, I would want to know who all those "friends" were. I also wanted to know everything Facebook thought it knew about me. I stopped caring what Facebook knows about me but I still care about my social graph and Facebook's use of it. So I removed my small little dot from Facebook's social graph of the world and hope Facebook actually deletes it.
I also removed my Google+ and LinkedIn profiles. I am keeping my Twitter profile. For mostly antidotal reasons, I trust Twitter is exerting more effort to protect my privacy and will let me know when they can not or are about to disclose my personal information.
You can still find me on the Internet. All of the same online links I posted on Facebook will continue to post on my Twitter profile, my Tumblr profile, in an RSS feed, in a daily email, and up top here on this website. Photos will continue to be posted on my Picasa and Flickr pages and occasionally here.
If you want to contact me directly, take a look at my Contact page where I share email and Instant Messenger information.
Monday, October 22, 2012, Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, 14.30–16.00
Moderator: Tarik Nesh Nash
Participants: Michael Anti, Yuri Dzhibladze, Jaroslav Valůch, Dan Meredith
Tarik Nesh Nash introduced the discussion by asking each panelist to talk about their own experience of censorship, before refocusing the debate on what the international community can do and what means can be used to circumvent censorship. Yuri Dzhibladze enumerated some of the legal tools of censorship used by the Russian government. He explained that laws written in vague terms, such as the law on “incitement of hatred toward social groups” are often used to protect the government or the police. He also addressed the issue of indirect censorship by mentioning that the Russian state uses young people to interfere with discussions on independent social networks.
“Applications like Facebook and Twitter were not designed for activists, and it would be foolish to think they can be used like that safely,” warned People In Need’s Jaroslav Valůch. To him, the international community has a role to play in preventing businesses from selling technology to regimes that will use them to monitor and censor, an idea that all panelists agreed with. Dan Meredith pointed out that no one on the ground and even among policy-makers really knows the list of everything their country is censoring. He also exposed how, by offering a limited set of predefined emoticons, Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) monitors his users' emotions. “Surveillance equals censorship,” he said. Alternatively, Chinese blogger Michael Anti asserted that “censorship is about server control. Where the server stands really matters.” He noted that because Chinese communications and censorship are so centralized and the country is so big, it is easy to freely criticize local governments. He concluded that the Internet can liberalize people's minds but won't make China a democracy.
Monday, October 22, 2012, Academy of Sciences, 12.00–13.30
Moderator: Jan Šnaidauf
Participants: Shlomo Avineri, Sultan Barakat, Dan Meredith
Moderator Jan Šnaidauf began by suggesting that Al Jazeera might be a political tool, and enquired of its overall purpose. Shlomo Avineri reacted by praising the network for creating “a public space not seen before in the Arab world.” He followed with two critical points, noting that Al Jazeera is wholly funded by the Qatari government, and emphasizing the discrepancy between the English and the Arabic versions. Sultan Barakat examined Al Jazeera within the development of the Qatari state, pointing to its role in increasing Qatar's soft diplomatic power. He stressed that it has built its credibility on “the Arab street” especially after falling out with the US over wars in the Middle East.
Dan Meredith argued that what is shown on the network is true in-the-field journalism, thanks to resources that enabled Al Jazeera journalists to take investigative risks. He continued that it has the “potential to be a pipeline for more independent reporting,” by taking an activist role. Mr. Avineri suggested Al Jazeera may now be over-confident pointing to the so-called “Tahrir Square illusion,” a term indicating that many of the images broadcast emanating from the Arab Spring showed Egyptians as unrealistically in favor of liberal democracy, resulting in a surprise after Egyptian elections. Mr. Meredith argued that Al Jazeera's funding and conduct is more transparent than that of American news networks saying that at least the political influence is clear.
The debate closed with Mr. Avineri crediting Al Jazeera with empowering the Arab people after a history without representative democratic institutions. Mr. Barakat agreed that, despite justified criticisms, the network has created a pan-Arab feeling.