“The Taliban have really been latecomers to the world of online video, and their initial forays haven’t been terribly successful,” Kohlman tells Danger Room. While the group has used YouTube in an official capacity before, placing video of captured America soldier on the site, Kohlman says that the use of embedded YouTube video on their site is a first. In other words, the Taliban is actually more dinosaurish about social media than the Pentagon. Way to be Web 2.0, Mullah Omar!
So what finally pushed the Afghan insurgent group onto YouTube? Bandwidth, Kohlman explains.
“Recent efforts to distribute high-resolution jihadi media in standard formats — RMVB, AVI, MPEG — have simply overloaded their web servers and exhausted their bandwidth. Now, it appears that the Taliban webmasters have finally come around and recognized the merits of YouTube, using the U.S.-based service to test out directly embedding video into their sites. By turning to YouTube, the Taliban gain a free, highly-reliable video broadcast service with the potential to reel in a vast, viral audience.”
And that's not the Taliban's only foray into Web 2.0. The "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" Website allows readers to share posts via Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and other social networking services.
The YouTube channel isn't much right now. Just a few non-narrated montages of car bombings and gun battles set to music (Judging from the soundtrack, the Taliban has also embraced auto-tuning.) But it will be interesting to see if YouTube moves to shut it down.
South African tech company Unlimited IT was so frustrated with the slow Internet speeds provided by Telkom, one of South Africa's biggest internet providers, that it hired a pigeon named Winston. As the Times of South Africa reports, Winston carried a 4gb memory card from one branch of Unlimited IT to another, far faster than Telkom's transfer speed:
The 11-month-old pigeon flew 80km from a call centre in Howick, outside Pietermaritzburg, to a head office in Hillcrest, Durban, to prove a bird is faster at transferring data than Telkom’s ADSL lines.
Winston made his delivery in 2 hours 6 minutes and 57 seconds, beating Telkom’s estimated download time of up to two days. By the time the memory card, carrying company data, had been collected from Winston and downloaded by midday, the ADSL download had managed 100MB of data.
The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Balduf, based in Johannesburg, explains why the story is more significant than just good publicity for Ultimate and Winston:
Africans pay some of the highest prices for some of the least reliable Internet service in the world. And if a country like South Africa – relatively prosperous and developed – can't solve this problem, then it's going to need a lot more pigeons.
Telkom has since responded to the South Africa Press Association and denied responsibility for Ultimate's Internet connection woes.
The Financial Times reports that an essay posted on a Chinese defense Website caused some controversy in India during recent Beijing-New Dehli border talks:
“China can dismember the so-called ‘Indian Union’ with one little move!” claimed the essay posted last week on China International Strategy Net, a patriotic website focused on strategic issues. The writer, under the pseudonym Zhanlue (strategy in Chinese), argued that India’s sense of national unity was weak and Beijing’s best option to remove an emerging rival and security threat would be to support separatist forces, like those in Assam, to bring about a collapse of the Indian federal state.
“There cannot be two suns in the sky,” wrote Zhanlue. “China and India cannot really deal with each other harmoniously.” The article suggested that India should be divided into 20 to 30 sovereign states.
Such was the outcry about the article that the Indian government issued a statement reassuring the country that relations with China were calm.
“The article in question appears to be an expression of individual opinion and does not accord with the officially stated position of China on India-China relations conveyed to us on several occasions, including at the highest level, most recently by State Councillor Dai Bingguo during his visit to India last week,” the foreign ministry in New Delhi said in a statement, referring to mutual pledges to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty. [...]
DS Rajan, director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, brought the essay to his countrymen’s attention. “It has generally been seen that China is speaking in two voices,” he said. “Its diplomatic interlocutors have always shown understanding during their dealings with their Indian counterparts, but its selected media is pouring venom on India in their reporting.”
According to Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei.org, the essay has actually been floating around the Chinese blogosphere in various forms since at least 2005, a fact not mentioned in the FT article or, presumably, by Rajan.
It seems odd at first that one essay on a nationalist Website could cause such an uproar. (Imagine if someone tried a draw conclusions about U.S. foreign policy from a glance at, say, WorldNetDaily.) But given the extent to which the Chinese government censors content it doesn't approve of online, they can hardly complain when articles that do appear on the Chinese Internet are assumed to have tacit government approval.
Political expression has grown up in Madagascar. After a coup deposed the government in March, previously dormant bloggers who once had little to talk about fired up their computers to comment on the instability. The BBC has the story:
Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter have become popular forums for debate, and video and picture sharing.
"The crisis has triggered something like social-media activism here in Madagascar," says Tahina.
Lova Rakotomalala, who analyses Malagasy bloggers for Global Voices, a project promoting citizen media across the world, believes the political crisis has helped inspire political expression among young Malagasies.
He says he wants to see the Malagasy blogosphere evolve into an internet forum similar to Kenya's Mzalendo.
Mzalendo, meaning "patriot" in Swahili, is a volunteer-run website whose self-declared mission is to "keep and eye on the Kenyan parliament".
The emerging trend seems to be that social media can help legitimize public unrest in politically unstable countries. Recent protests in Iran and Moldova appear to prove the point. Does Madagascar's experience with Web 2.0 confirm anything?
West Africa's SAT-3 broadband cable connection to Europe was severely disrupted this week, temporarily crippling many industries like Nigeria's banking sector, as that country lost 70% of its bandwidth. It could take up to two weeks to fix the offshore cable, which runs from Portugal all the way to South Africa.
Along with excitement, the Internet boom raises some policy questions for African governments and companies. On the governmental side, Nigeria is now being lobbied by business groups to declare SAT-3 "critical infrastructure" and help avoid future breakdowns. East African governments should take note: the downside of increased Internet connectivity is increased vulnerability when one of your only connections goes down.
As far as the private sector, Steve Song, creator of that awesome broadband cable map, has an interesting series: "What Google Should do in Africa." Song's biggset priorities are that the company should 1) Support open spectrum; 2) Launch Google Voice in Africa; and 3) Lobby for cheaper SMS (text messaging) rates.
Of particular interest to me is the SMS suggestion, as mobile phones and SMS are frequently cited as a potentially powerful tool for poverty reduction. A Stanford classmate of mine, for example, helped found FrontlineSMS: Medic to reduce costs of rural healthcare using mass texting technology.
As Song notes, Google is interested, and recently rolled out a partnership in Uganda with the Grameen Foundation and MTN, a wireless company, to increase information availability, particularly for rural farmers. Though applauding the initiative, Song is skeptical of the choice to make the new technology available with only one company.
There is a desperate need for organisations like Google who have a vested interest in seeing more data traffic to help lobby for more competition, for lower barriers to entrepreneurship in the telecom sector, and for cheaper access for all.
So when I see the company that wagered billions in the 700MHz spectrum auction in the U.S. to effectively arm-wrestle Verizon into OpenAccess conditions, the company that has made countless submissions to the FCC to lobby for unlicensed access to television white spaces spectrum, announce that they have “partnered” with a single mobile operator in Uganda to deliver SMS services, you will understand me if I seem a little let down.
I agree with the sentiment, but for what it is worth MTN Uganda is the largest provider, with over half of the market share. And as desirable as it may be for Google to work with everyone, logisitcally, you have to start somewhere.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images
Remember that massive cyberattack on U.S. and South Korean Web sites last week? The intensity of the incident, which may have involved as many as 166,000 "zombie" computers, initially led Seoul to believe its neighbor to the north was responsible. But now, a world-hopping investigation shows the attackers could have been virtually anywhere:
According to BKIS, infected computers had tried to contact one of eight so-called command and control servers every three minutes. These machines then gave instructions to the hacked PC - generally ordering them to direct traffic straight at victim websites, in [an] attempt to overload them and force them to crash.
But these eight servers were themselves being controlled by a single source, which evidence indicated was located somewhere in Britain.
The Brighton-based company controlling the servers in question then blamed a VPN connection (a secure internet link that allows users to access server files from remote locations) maintained by an Argentinian firm's outpost in Miami, Florida.
Oh, and the cybersecurity company responsible for all this gumshoeing? It's Vietnamese.
Yeah, "electro-convulsive therapy" doesn't quite sit well with me, either:
China's ministry of health has banned the use of electric shock treatment to cure internet addiction. [...]
An earlier report by the Information Times claimed patients received electroconvulsive therapy if they broke any of the centre's rules, which included eating chocolate, locking the bathroom door, taking pills before a meal and sitting on Yang's chair without permission. It said parents had to sign a contract acknowledging their child would be given ECT before admission.
Seems like this Yang fellow was on something of a power trip (no pun intended). Does this make for two cases in which Beijing's intervention was a good thing?
I suppose not abusing one's patients is a step forward, of sorts.
Obama will respond to questions submitted this week by text message (SMS) in a recording made sometime before his speech at the Ghanaian parliament. The tape will be released to African radio stations and other media after his speech, and the speech will also be broadcast simultaneously on African radio stations and on the internet.
The White House page with all the details is here, including the numbers Africans can use to submit their questions. Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have dedicated local shortcodes with longcodes available for other Africans. According to Kenya's Daily Nation, local SMS rates will be charged, and mobile users can choose to receive excerpts from the speech via SMS in French or English.
Erik Hersman, a new media guru who blogs at White African, worked with the White House on the platform and has a great post on logistics and some of the reasoning behind the various outreach platforms. Hersman says that U.S. citizens cannot participate in the SMS platform because of cold-war era legislation on public diplomacy, but other efforts including a live chat on Facebook and a dedicated Twitter tag (#obamaghana) will try and encourage global discussion. News site allAfrica is also collecting questions for Obama.
With no glitches, this demonstration of interest in the views of Africans will probably boost Obama's global approval ratings, which already are almost double those of the United States. At Accra's tourist market, Obama t-shirts and paintings are flying off the shelves and Ghanaians are hoping for a boost in tourism after the visit.
More on Obama's decision to visit Ghana can be found in a recent post by FP editor Elizabeth Dickinson.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
China's reserve currency proposal might be getting the big financial headlines today, but for millions of online games, the People's Republic's crackdown on imaginary gold is a much bigger story.
If you were a level-three dwarf but had insufficient magic points to defeat that nine-headed dragon, what would you do? Many online multiplayer gamers would probably whip out their credit card, buy a few hundred gold pieces for $5 and pump themselves full of magic before venturing into the dragon's lair. Until now.
The practice of intentionally earning and hoarding game currency -- with the ultimate aim of selling it to others for real money -- was declared illegal this week in China, where as much as 80 percent of the world's so-called "gold farming" takes place. The gold farming craze has spawned "an enormous Chinese workforce earning 30 cents an hour playing MMOs and harvesting treasure to supply the major retailers."
In all, InformationWeek reports, nearly $150 million in virtual currency was traded last year. Worldwide, the industry rakes in some $1 billion a year from players eager to make their mark on their favorite fantasy universe online.
Buying gold from the farms might come off as cheating when compared to the honest players who earn gold through their own hard work. But to look at it another way -- isn't this all about entrepreneurial spirit?
Fiber optic fever has hit East Africa. On Friday, June 12, the 4,500 kilometer (2,790 mile) East Africa Marine System (TEAMS) underwater cable connected the Kenyan port town of Mombasa with Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and is expected to begin operating within three months.
"Until now, the eastern Africa coast was the longest coastline in the
world without a fiber-optic cable connection to the rest of the world," Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki said at the launch ceremony after the cables were pulled ashore.
This great map by Steve Song shows where things will be in a few years with line thickness representing bandwith size. The TEAMS cable (green on map above) is one of three international fiber optic cables expected to reach East Africa this year.
The next (red on map) is constructed by SEACOM, a private company in partnership with a number of African companies. It has already landed, to less fanfare because the Kenyan government has a stake in TEAMS, and is supposed to be ready by the end of June, connecting East Africa to Europe and Asia. The third, the East African Marine Cable System (EASSy) is sponsored by the International Finance Corporation, the private sector wing of the World Bank and is scheduled to be finished in 2010 (blue on map).
When the cables go online, they will replace satellite connections as the main source of internet access in Africa, increasing speed, reliability and reducing cost. This should improve productivity and allow increased access with the lower price. In Kenya, the internet company Access Kenya has already pledged that the new cables will double internet speed for its users, and companies are scrambling buy access to the broadband and to finalize internal fiber optic cables. Neighboring landlocked states like Uganda and Rwanda are seeking to do the same.
As interconnectivity between
African countries increases, economic benefits are expected, especially
in Kenya, which has a fast developing IT sector. Other potential impacts include education and access to media.
For a good visual of all the submarine internet cables operating or being built worldwide, check out this Alcatel-Lucent map (pdf).The more connections, the faster information can move. Most major websites are still hosted in the United States and Europe, but as Africa's wired status improves, this could change, and locally hosted data is much faster to access.
Certainly are some strange things happening on the interwebs these days. From Wired's Danger Room:
Anonymous Iran is a collaboration between The Pirate Bay — operators of the world’s largest torrent site, convicted in April of copyright infringement — and Anonymous, the prankster collective dedicated to exposing “Scientology’s crimes.”
The new site offers tips on how to navigate online in private, upload files through the Iranian firewall, find the best activist Tweeters, and launch attacks on pro-government websites.
Since Twitter started getting coverage for its role in the goings-on in Iran, commentators have expressed concern over which Twitter feeds are fake, and whether Twitter could be used to spread disinformation. The unofficial Twitter watchdog Twitspam has a list of "fake Iran election tweeters," and their feeds make for fascinating examples of reverse propaganda in action.
Their techniques have different approaches and levels of subtelty. Some simply make up silly stories, like one user's claim "BREAKINGNEWS: Ahmedinejads plane take off from Russia 2 hours ago & lost over BlackSea! Does he know how to swim? confrmation?" or another's insistence that "Mussavi concedes, pleads halt to protest." Others take a more egotistical approach, such as this user generously volunteering to become the leader: "Saturday - small groups organized by "ERAN SPAHBOD RUSTAM" will attack government buildings and basij.women,children stay home." Finally, some Tweeters, in their rush to spread violence, seem rather unclear as to correct grammatical usage of Arabic words: "Get a mask and gloves - lets intifada tonight on the streets of Teheran - My group will barricade one street. Make your group 2. kick ass"
The most pernicious fake Twitter user, though, has been Persian_Guy, who's not only provided fake news ( "Mussavi overheard: 'We don't need a black man's help, that's humiliating, at least not arab.'") and calls for violence (""non-Iranian Arabs waving Hamas/Hezbollah flags around the protests. Kill Arabs now, they are scums!"), but has even brought Twitter into the fake narrative. According to this user, "Twitter's staff are ecstatic by what's happening in Iran, "We're so glad there's chaos in Iran, finally Twitter is 'useful.'"" Somehow, I doubt that will endear him to his fellow Tweeters.
David Paul Morris/Getty Images
Shanghaiist has a very interesting roundup of Web message board reactions to Iran's election from China, a country that knows a thing or two about the government stifling dissent. Many of those commenting faulted the government not for cracking down on the protests, but for bothering to hold sham elections at all, and allowing the protests to get out of hand:
"The Iranian presidential election evolved after decades but now is triggering so many protests and riots; I am not sure how the liberal wings of the party would think? Use the army. Whoever fights against the government should be killed. There are so many people in Iran so killing several hundreds of thousands is not a big deal. What does the army do? Foolish (Iranian government)."
Barack Obama's caution also doesn't seem to have convinced Chinese netizens that the U.S. isn't behind all of this:
"America is always opposed to the other countries' democracy because American politics is a fake democracy; it is really the 'presidential dictatorship.' However, America asks other countries to be 'fake democracies' -- killing the real democracy!"
"When Bush was elected as the American president, he cheated too. But Al Gore was rational and admitted that he lost because of national stabilization. Mousavi has America as his biggest backer but not many Iranian supporters. He should admitted that he lost."
It's a very small sample size and I'm sure not universally representative of Chinese opinions, but telling nonetheless.
(Hat tip: Josh Kucera)
With all these Twitter Revolutions breaking out all over the place, it certainly seems like that whole online social networking thing is here to stay. Good thing FP has already got Web 2.0 on lock!
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Yesterday, James Downie wrote about the U.S. State Department's request to Twitter that a scheduled maintenance period be postponed — so that news could continue to stream out of Iran. Twitter apparently complied, delaying the outage until 5 p.m. EST yesterday.
But, says Twitter CEO Biz Stone, the State Department in fact had very little to do with Twitter's decision to push off its server downtime:
'When we worked with our network provider to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network.
'We decided together to move the date. It made sense for Twitter and for NTT America to keep services active during this highly visible global event.'
This explanation seems to dovetail with current circumstances on multiple levels. For one, it makes good business sense — the defiant use of the social networking tool in Iran makes for good publicity. And for another, it shores up U.S President Barack Obama's statements pledging non-intervention.
As many other outlets have remarked, Twitter has been a critical lifeline for news coming out of Iran, with bloggers combining Tweets and grainy cell phone footage for indispensable running coverage (the best example of this has been Andrew Sullivan, who George Packer rightly calls "the number one source for Iran news these days"). The role has been so critical that when Twitter announced a temporary shutdown last night for an important network upgrade, even the State Department asked it to delay the upgrade:
The US government asked Twitter to delay maintenance plans in order to allow Iranians to communicate while their government banned other media following elections, a US official said Tuesday.
The official said the State Department had asked the social networking firm to delay shutting down its service to "highlight to them that this was an important means of communications... in Iran."
The State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that the Twitter service was all the more important because the Iranian government had shut down other websites, cell phones, and newspapers.
"One of the areas where people are able to get out the word is through Twitter," the official said. "They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to."
Twitter eventually postponed the upgrade until later today. Some might say this is an example of American interference, but, as (ironically) CNN points out, Twitter is just as crucial an information source for the State Department as anyone else:
Because the US has no relations with Iran and does not have an embassy there, it is relying on media reports and the State Department’s Iran Watch Offices in embassies around the world. The largest such offices are in Dubai, Berlin and London, all home to large Iranian expat communities.
But officials say the internet, and specifically social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, are providing the United States with critical information in the face of a crackdown on journalists by Iranian authorities[...]
While officials would not say whether they were communicating with Iranians directly, one senior official noted that the US is learning about certain people being picked up for questioning by authorities through posts on Twitter.
“It is a very good example of where technology is helping,” the official said.
NIMA DAYMARI/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government made waves again yesterday as it released its controversal new Internet censorship program known as "Green Dam -- Youth Escort."
The move has privacy activists fuming over China's declaration that all new computers must be equipped with the software. But although the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology claims Green Dam is capable of blocking inappropriate content with "95 per cent accuracy in 0.2 seconds," initial consumer reports say the program has been less than effective:
I have to come to this Web site and curse. After we installed the software, many normal Web sites are banned. ... For example, when [Network News] reports that there is a campaign against pornographic Web sites, the software bans the story because the term "pornographic Web sites" was used. Don't tell me how great the software technology is, because this is a piece of junk."
How much flesh color does it take to make something 'pornography'? I went on the Internet to check out some animal photos. A lovely little naked pig was sent onto the black list. Pitiful little pig! I was curious, so I looked up some photos of naked African women. Oh, they were not censored!"
Complaints over filter accuracy aside, it's still unclear whether the program actually works as advertised. In tests conducted by the South China Morning Post and the European Commmission's KDNet, Green Dam required intensive micro-management and failed to block explicit material on any consistent basis.
With the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on Thursday, China's ever-vigilant censors have stepped up the reach of the "Great Firewall," blocking Western sites like Twitter, Flickr, and (just one day after its launch) Microsoft's Bing.
The measures came as the authorities tried to close all avenues of dissent ahead of Thursday's anniversary, placing prominent critics under house arrest and banning newspaper from making any mention of the pro-democracy protests.
The co-ordinated internet "takedown" occurred at 5pm local time (10am GMT) on Tuesday as a broad range of websites suddenly became unavailable to Chinese internet users[...]
Foreign newspaper and television channels were also subject to censorship as the highly sensitive anniversary approached.
Viewers of the BBC's world channels in Beijing found their screens turning black whenever reports on the anniversary were being aired and four foreign television crews attempting to film in Tiananmen Square reported being stopped by police.
Print publications were also affected, with many subscribers to The Economist magazine receiving their weekly copies with the Tiananmen-related pages ripped out. Readers of the Financial Times and South China Morning post also reported missing pages.
As for those who saw the expanded censorship coming, the "Surprisingly Accurate Internet Claim" award goes to Chinese blogger Michael Anti, who just last Wednesday told Danwei.org:
"Twitter is a new thing in China. The censors need time to figure out what it is. So enjoy the last happy days of twittering before the fate of Youtube descends on it one day."
If there's one group who respond quickly to news, though, it's Twitter users, who have already made the topic one of the most talked about on the site. After all, as one user put it: "No Twitter in China now? How do they make it through the day?"
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Israel's internal security service is warning citizens to be wary of who may be lurking on the popular networking site:
In a recent incident, a man who called himself "a Lebanese agent" offered an Israeli Facebook user money in exchange for classified information. The Israeli notified the Shin Bet of the incident and immediately cut off contact with the man.
The Shin Bet has advised Israelis to refrain from broadcasting personal information on their network profiles, including phone numbers, areas of residence and e-mail addresses.
The Private Sector Development blog at the World Bank has a cool post on the effect of labor laws on computer use. Social scientists have theorized that the stricter the regulations on hiring and firing workers, the more companies turn to computers and technology.
Turns out that conventional wisdom is correct, a World Bank study shows:
Amin (2009) tests this hypothesis on 1,948 retail stores in India using data from Enterprise Surveys, a regular World Bank survey on firm performance, firm characteristics and the business climate....The study finds that the percentage of retail stores that use computers rises by 6.2 percentage points as we move from the state with the least to the median level of rigid labor laws. This is a large effect given than only 19% of the stores in the sample use computers.
The PSD blog cautions against reading too much into the results, though:
That is, to properly understand the computers/productivity relationship one needs to distinguish between the motive of saving labor because of labor regulations and the motive of enhancing efficiency through computer usage. To what extent these effects hold remains to be empirically ascertained - an important task given that the use of computers and other modern devices is fast spreading across the globe.
But there's a nice synergy there. And I wonder whether the same scientists have studied the corollary between India as an outsourcing hub and an IT giant.
Beijing monitors China's Internet users; Chinese Internet users monitor Beijing. Or at least hackers based in Taiwan recently tapped into a top State Council official's computer to snatch drafts of Premier Wen Jiabao's government work report and other documents.
According to the South China Morning Post:
"The documents included comments from Politburo members who wanted to change this or that in the government report. These are regarded as top state secrets, even more sensitive than the government report itself," one source said. "Mr Wen was said to be furious when told about the case."
This happened in March, prior to Wen delivering the equivalent of China's State of the Union address at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
No secrets were revealed as to the source of the mysterious and unchanging GDP predictions, but according to SCMP, speculation based on the report did leak out and jigger global stock markets.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
Facebook recently launched an Arabic version of its popular social networking site in a bid to expand its presence among the 250 million Arabic-speaking people of the world. Facebook enlisted the help of 850 Arabic speakers in the site’s design, asking them to discuss and vote on the best translations.
Facebook is already wildly successful across the Middle East, even without a design in most Arabs' native language. According to Alexa, it is the most popular site in Lebanon, with 300,000 users, and the third most popular site in Egypt, with 900,000 users. It has long been possible to write in Arabic script on Facebook, but users have needed to be proficient in another language to navigate the site’s links and sidebars.
In the Middle East, where political expression is largely dominated by the state, the expansion of Facebook to Arabic-only speakers is a potentially big deal. Last year, Facebook’s largely censorship-free environment helped Egyptian activists organize anti-regime protests. This has caused some Arab regimes to crack down on the social networking site. Egyptian authorities arrested and roughed up the creator of a Facebook group that promoted last year’s protest, while Syria has previously blocked all access to the site.
Early reviews of Facebook’s Arabic version have been mixed, with some users complaining that the translations are unwieldy or inaccurate. Without previously existing Arabic words for Facebook terms such as a “wall” or ‘E-mail Friend Finder,” this was perhaps inevitable. But the criticism from bilingual users familiar with the English-language Facebook misses the point. This experiment will sink or swim based on the site’s ability to tap into the market of Arabic-only speakers, and to act as a conduit for expression and organization beyond the reach of the state.
In an ironic twist that was bound to happen sooner or later, the job of watching the U.S.-Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants from coming to take American jobs...has been outsourced. Thanks to live streaming videos, anyone with an Internet connection can now log on and keep an eye on the Texas border and report illegal immigrants or drug smugglers to the authorities. (I watched a section of the Rio Grande for about three minutes yesterday but then I got bored. Sorry America.)
Interestingly, foreigners seem particularly taken with the project:
Anyone with an internet connection can now help to patrol the 1,254-mile frontier through a network of webcams set up to allow the public to monitor suspicious activity. Once logged in, the volunteers spend hours studying the landscape and are encouraged to email authorities when they see anyone on foot, in vehicles or aboard boats heading towards US territory from Mexico.
So far, more than 100,000 web users have signed up online to become virtual border patrol deputies, according to Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition, which represents 20 counties where illegal crossings and drugs and weapons smuggling are rife.
"We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, 'Hey mate, we've been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia'," he said.
Since the first 15 of a planned network of 200 cameras went live in November, officials claim that emailed tips have led to the seizure of more than 2,000lb (907kg) of marijuana and 30 incidents in which "significant numbers" of would-be illegal immigrants were spotted and turned back. Some tips came from Europe, Asia and beyond, but most online watchers are based in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, three of the four US states that share a border with Mexico.
As we've noted before, the British Foreign Offices's diplo-blogging experiment has, for the most part, been a resounding success. But all that might be undone by this post by Ambassador to North Korea Peter Hughes on the country's recent "election," which reads more like one of the Korean Central News Agency's floried dispatches. Here's a sample:
Spring seems to have arrived in Pyongyang, much the same as I suppose it has in Seoul. The weather during the weekend was relatively warm and sunny for the elections of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly that took place on Sunday 8 March. There was a very festive atmosphere throughout the city. Many people were walking to or from the polling stations, or thronging the parks to have picnics or just stroll. Most of the ladies were dressed in the colourful traditional hanguk pokshik and the men in their best suits. Outside the central polling stations there were bands playing and people dancing and singing to entertain the queues of voters waiting patiently to select their representatives in the country's unicameral legislature. The booths selling drinks and snacks were very popular with the crowds and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The list of successful candidates was published on Monday. There was a reported turn-out of over 99% of the voters and all the candidates, including Kim Jong Il, were elected with 100% approval. In a few weeks time the Supreme People's Assembly will open for business which will include voting for the Chairman of the National Defence Committee (presently Kim Jong Il), and drawing up the budget for the coming financial year.
I don't mean to lecture the ambassador on the finer points of democratic politics, but 99 percent turnout is generally not considered a good thing. Looks like someone is hankering a slice of Kim's famous pizza.
The Times' always-worth-reading France blogger Charles Bremner tells the story of how the unfortunately named town of Eu is having a hard time transitioning into the Internet age:
Eu, which is close to the coastal town of Tréport has been suffering from a drop in holiday visitors and they think they know the reason: the internet. People booking on line are not directed to the town's fine hotels and inns because search engines fail to recognise a two-letter place name which is the same as the past participle of the verb avoir (J'ai eu, pronounced like the letter U in English, means I had). It also does not help that EU stands for European Union in English. Further complicating Eu's problem is the fact that two other French words are pronounced in identical fashion: eux, meaning them and oeufs, meaning eggs.
After making only 7,700 euros in hotel visitor tax instead of the expected 24,000, Marie-Françoise Gaouyer, the new Socialist Mayor of Eu (above), has set out to add a few more letters. She has an extra good reason for doing so. Try saying her title in French. La Maire d'Eu (The Mayor[ess] of Eu) is pronounced the same as La merde (sorry for spelling out what will be obvious to most here).
After several futile searches to find a photo of Eu to go with this post on Getty Images, I have to say I understand how this could be a problem.
Development ideologues beware. NYU economist, aid skeptic, top intellectual, and FP contributor William Easterly has entered the blogosphere. His new blog, Aid Watch, aims to "be brutally honest when aid is not helping the poor, but also praising it when it is." His first post takes on World Bank President Robert Zoellick's call for $6 billion in addtional U.S. foreign aid.
The State Department's official blog, Dipnote, still looks exactly the same as its Bush-era incarnation. This includes, unfortunately, its eye-straining white text on black background design. Given how little the blog has changed -- I'm guessing it's being written on the same content management system -- it's a bit jarring to see that all the posts written before the new editors took over on Jan. 20 have been
deleted removed from the blog and put in an archive page.
I also can't help notice the conspicuous absence of Passport (or any of the new FP blogs) from Dipnote's new blogroll. The previous editors were nice enough to add us after some cajoling. I'm not sure if we were removed before or after the changeover.
As we've said before, there's no reason diploblogging can't work. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband's blog is a consistently good read, for instance. But blog readers are inherently skeptical of anything that looks like official boilerplate (as the Center for American Progress recently learned) and Dipnote never really provided much that wasn't available in mainstream media coverage. Perhaps the Obama folks will be able to shake things up a bit. For now, The Cable and Madam Secretary remain the blogosphere's go-to destinations for State Department news.
Just as FDR mastered radio, and JFK became the first television president, it looks like BHO is going to be the first true president of the Internet age. His spiffy new Web site is already up:
Over at Abu Muqawama, a fashionable blog hangout for the COIN set, host Andrew Exum and his commenters dissect Col. Gian Gentile's recent article for ForeignPolicy.com, "Think Again: Counterinsurgency."
Exum takes issue with Gentile's argument that the U.S. Army has moved too far away from its traditional focus on warfighting:
You have got to be kidding me. Just look at the budget and where the money is being spent. Governing is budgeting. From the limited perspective of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, I could see where Gian might be able to argue that we have embraced COIN whole-heartedly. (As well we should have, as those are counter-insurgency campaigns.) But there are two other services in the U.S. military against whom the U.S. Army and Marine Corps compete for budget share. And the Congress, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the defense contractors, the defense industry, and many within the uniformed officer corps of all services have interests in keeping the U.S. military focused on conventional warfare -- and the big, expensive, job-producing weapons systems needed to fight conventional warfare.
And Gentile fires back:
You know, I sit down at my little desk in my quarters along the banks of the Hudson opening up my WP Atlas Map Series to prep for my class on World War I and the eastern front, and BAM!! Brother AM throwing HEAT at me. OK, game-on, Let's see if I can hit the f...ing bull!
Read the whole thing, as they say.
An undersea cable near Egypt in the Mediterranean was cut today, disrupting Internet access for millions:
The main damage through is to the four submarine cables running across the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal.
It is thought that 65% of traffic to India was down, while services to Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Taiwan and Pakistan have also been severely affected.
The cause of the cut is unknown though there was some seismic activity recorded near Malta. This certainly seems like a pretty serious story:
Jonathan Wright - director of wholesale products at Interoute which manages part of the optical fibre network - told the BBC that the effects of the break would be felt for many days.
"This will grind economies to a halt for a short space of time," he said "If you look at, say, local financial markets who trade with European and US markets, the speed at which they get live data will be compromised." [...]
"We've lost three out of four lines. If the fourth cable breaks, we're looking at a total blackout in the Middle East," said Mr Wright."These three circuits account for 90% of the traffic and we're going to see more international phone calls dropping and a huge degradation in the quality of local internet,"
If financial transactions as far away as Singapore were really blocked by a minor undersea earthquake near Malta, it's a pretty sobering reminder of the fragile physical ties that make our virtual world possible.
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