GoDaddy, the web domain registration company better known for its risque Super Bowl commercials than its political principles, announced today that it will stop registering domains in China in protest against cyber attacks and censorship:
"We believe that many of the current abuses of the Internet originating in China are due to a lack of enforcement against criminal activities by the Chinese government," Christine Jones, Go Daddy Group Inc general counsel, told a congressional commission hearing on Wednesday.
She said GoDaddy had repelled dozens of extremely serious attacks that appear to have originated in China in the first three months of 2010. GoDaddy would, however, continue to manage .cn domain names of existing customers.
"Our experience as been that China is focused on using the Internet to monitor and control the legitimate activities of its citizens, rather than penalizing those who commit Internet-related crimes," Jones said.
I'd be interested to know how much business GoDaddy is actually doing in China. Maybe I'm just being cynical, but since GoDaddy's whole business model depends on grabbing media attention, they may figure that the good publicity is worth taking a hit in the Chinese market. Not sure if it will be as effective an attention-grabber as those Danica Patrick ads but worth a shot I suppose.
Chinese President Hu Jintao has mysteriously given up on micro-blogging before ever really getting started.
China’s President startled the internet at the weekend by opening a micro-blog – the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
Fascinated netizens began signing up at the rate of more than ten people a minute. But a day later the account of Hu Jintao disappeared.
A brief pro-forma note this morning on the empty site, hosted by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily Online, said simply: “This item cannot be found, the author may have erased it.”
That fails to explain the mystery of the president’s missing micro-blog.
Did the famously cautious leader of 1.3 billion people decide he wasn’t ready for such open interaction? Has he joined the ranks of those censored by the Great Firewall of China? Was it a case of identity theft? Had the People’s Daily failed to carry out the proper checks? Or was it a simple computer error.
Hu hadn't even posted a single tweet or adding a picture (see above photo) to his account. This is a rare instance where the Kremlin seems to be more on the cutting edge than Beijing.
For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.
The question I'd like to highlight this week is:
What percentage of the world's cell-phone accounts are in developing countries?
a) 25 percent b) 50 percent c) 75 percent
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images For The Clinton Foundation
As part of an open-source assessment of "security, safety, and border control" threats associated with the Winter Olympics, the Department of Homeland Security's National Operations Center has launched "Social Media Event Monitoring Initiative" to see what's being said online. This entails "monitoring publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards" to assess possible homeland security threats. Among the many fine online sources the NOC is monitoring, is this blog!
Our Olympics coverage has been pretty minimal this year so I can't imagine we've provided a whole lot of useful intel, but thanks for reading, guys! Have you checked out this cool photo essay yet?
(Thanks to Josh R. for the tip.)
China's Xinjiang province has been without Internet access since anti-government riots last summer. At the end of 2009, the government began allowing access to a handful of government-run sites. This week the bans were lifted on a whopping 27 websites.
You might be getting tired of counting new sites being opened in Xinjiang as “news”. I know I am. If, however, you’re waiting for a single day when Xinjiang will suddenly “turn on the internet”, I have some bad news for you.
I believe China is strategically opening small parts of the internet and making headline news out of each event knowing full-well that the international media’s attention span won’t keep up. We’re already getting bored. 27 more sites are opened in Xinjiang today, 50 more next week…who cares?
Meanwhile the flow of information is being strictly controlled and authorities still take the opportunity to declare a state of freedom on the internet.
Right now the difference between internet in Xinjiang and the rest of China is determined by the way we describe the censorship. Throughout most of China people explain the Great Firewall by the number of sites which have been blocked; in Xinjiang we count how many sites have been unblocked. That's a huge difference.
(Hat tip: Ethan Zuckerman)
Here's the quick and dirty summary: Wieseltier uses a W.H. Auden quote as a framing device for long, tedious, and link-free article that paints Sullivan as an anti-Semite. Sullivan fires back with a rebuttal of Wieseltier's interpretation of the quote and shows the original email exchange that prompted Andrew to use it. He follows up a while later with a 2008 quote from Wieseltier explicitly saying Sullivan is NOT an anti-Semite. More is soon to follow. [UPDATE: Here's Sullivan with more. Much, much more.]
So far, I'm not impressed by any of it. Wieseltier does catch Sullivan writing some weird and sloppy things about Jews, and Andrew should be much more careful in criticizing Israel. But Wieseltier is equally sloppy and careless with his language, sweepingly accusing Sullivan of "venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews." The whole thing is pretty tiresome, and the fracas as it plays out will do little to enhance the discussion about Israel and the Palestinian question (and just wait until Marty Peretz throws his hat in the ring), or either man's image, for that matter.
Having read both TNR and Sullivan's blog for years now, I feel well-qualified to make a few unsolicited observations. First, Sullivan is no anti-Semite. He doesn't really have a set ideology, though he claims to be a conservative. His worldview seems to be determined not by deep, core beliefs, but by an innate sense of what his audience wants to read at any given moment. He's wildly successful as a blogger in part because he shifts with the political winds -- witness his conversion from a fanatical enthusiast for George W. Bush's war on terror to a strident critic of "enhanced interrogations," or his sudden passion for Iranian dissidents. It's probably not an accident, either, that he spent much of 2008 pumping up the ludicrous, but Web-driven Ron Paul candidacy while writing obsessively about the Google-riffic Sarah Palin.
Sullivan's criticism of Israel ought to worry defenders of the Jewish state, then, because he is a bellwether for a broader shift in American media and society that has happened over the last few years. Israel is using up a lot of the goodwill it had built up in the 1990s, when eminent statesmen like Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres made good-faith efforts toward peace with the Palestinians. Since then, the country has been governed by a series of unimaginative right-wing leaders who have pandered constantly to their settler base and chosen to solve political problems through the use of force. Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party may have their fingers on the pulse of their public right now, but their agenda is not one that appeals to most Americans, who strongly support Israel's right to exist but have little interest in underwriting the permanent occupation of the West Bank.
Tired old arguments like "but the Palestinians are worse!" may win debate points, but they aren't a good way to rebuild the widespread support for Israel that existed in Bill Clinton's time. Only wise and far-sighted Israeli leadership can do that, and self-styled friends of the Jewish state might want to think about ways they can help nudge the Israeli political class in a more productive direction, rather than publishing 4,000-word essays about ... bloggers.
UPDATE: Jeff Goldberg chimes in with a few additional thoughts:
What Israel needs is a leader who will step forward and say, "Here is the way things should look," and then present an outline for the creation of a viable Palestine. The settlers will go nuts, but that's what they do. Hamas will go nuts, because that's what it does. But Hounshell is right: What is needed is a Rabin.
I hadn't seen this earlier: John Pomfret relays word that Google's declaration that it would no longer comply with Chinese Internet censorship rules was a verboten subject in Davos this year.
"At China's request, that topic was left off the table at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Josef Ackermann, chief executive of Deutsche Bank and co-chairman of the event, told Bloomberg News," he writes.
So now China is capable of silencing debate in what's supposed to be an open forum?
Here's more from Bloomberg, which quotes Ackermann saying "China didn't want to discuss Google":
At Davos, participants such as financier George Soros, economist Joseph Stiglitz and French President Nicolas Sarkozy debated technology topics such as social networking and 3-D features used in the motion picture "Avatar." The discussion didn't include the conflict between China and Google, even in panels such as "The Rise of Asia" or "Redesigning the Global Dimensions of China's Growth."
Way to tackle the tough issues, guys.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt did briefly raise the subject on his own, however, according to the Wall Street Journal:
"We like what China is doing in terms of growth...we just don't like censorship," Mr. Schmidt said, speaking at the World Economic Forum's annual summit here. "We hope that will change and we can apply some pressure to make things better for the Chinese people." [...]
Mr. Schmidt maintained Friday that Google wants to continue operating in China. But he said the company didn't want to do so if it had to operate under China's censorship laws. To operate its Web site, Googe.cn in China, Google had to agree to censor its results.
"We would very much like to stay in China. We would very much like the censorship we oppose to improve in China," Mr. Schmidt replied.
Li Keqiang, China's vice premier, didn't address the issue in his speech, but apparently insisted in private that foreign companies must follow Chinese laws.
Twitter users may have noticed the trending topic "UPS is shipping to" on their side rails. The topic consists almost entirely of the re-tweeted message:
UPS is shipping to Haiti for free today UNDER 50 POUNDS- Clothing and Food Drives at all United Way and Salvation Army
This is not true:
In a blog post Wednesday on UPS's Web site, a spokeswoman debunked the rumor and said that destruction of Haiti's roads and communications networks "means our own shipping services to Haiti are on hold."
UPS is donating $1 million to help the people of Haiti through relief agencies, she said.
There were similar rumors last night about American Airlines and JetBlue flying doctors to Haiti for free and both airlines were flooded with calls as a result.
With all the talk of Google's response to Chinese cyber-attacks, less noticed has been the attack on Chinese search giant Baidu today. Earlier today, users trying to access Baidu were redirected to the above page (screenshot via Danwei.org)saying, "This site has been hacked by the Iranian cyber army".
This same previously unkown group hacked Twitter in December. Given Twitter's well-publicized role in the green revolution, it was a logical target for pro-Iranian extremists. But what's their beef with Baidu?
In any event, strange day on the Chinese internets.
My colleagues here have been weighing in on Google's "bombshell" revelation that China has been spying on dissidents and human rights activists, trying to crack open their Gmail accounts, presumably with the aim of monitoring and disrupting their activities. A lot of commentary is so far focused on the immediate issue at hand -- China's crushing censorship and Google's controversial policy of accomodating it in the hopes of gaining market share (see Jordan Calinoff's excellent dispatch on how this policy has largely failed). Of course, we already knew China did this sort of thing, but having the details so dramatically thrust into the public sphere is shocking. This is going to be a huge, ongoing story, not only because Google and China are two of the biggest and most widely debated news topics in the world, but also because nearly everyone's going to sympathize with the people whose privacy and peace of mind has been violated.
There's a larger story developing though, of a very tense year in relations between China and the West. Eurasia Group's Ian Bremmer made that prediction earlier this year, and it's probably happening even faster than he imagined. In addition to this Google story, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already jumped on, there's also a brewing U.S.-China fight over arms sales to Taiwan, China's recent missile test in retaliation, and a guerrilla trade war that now seems more likely to develop into a full-blown trade conflict.
By overplaying its hand with the activists, and messing with a huge global company with a massive ability to get its message out, China has foolishly just thrown away whatever goodwill it has built up over the years through its "charm offensive" -- at least in the West. Now, those arguing across a range of issues that China is a bad actor have been handed an enormous rhetorical club to beat Beijing over the head with. It's going to get ugly.
The official website for Spain's European Union presidency was briefly hacked this morning by an unidentified hacker who posted a smiling picture of British comedian Rowan Atkinson's famous character Mr. Bean. Apparently the resemblance of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Maria Zapatero to the bumbling character has been a running joke in Spain for years. Never thought of it before but I can see it.
Screenshot via elmundo.es
The year's best takedowns, journalistic or otherwise. Put yours in the comments.
10. Glenn Greenwald on Jeffrey Rosen's profile of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in The New Republic: "[Rosen's] smear of Sonia Sotomayor's intellect and character -- based almost exclusively on anonymous, gossiping ‘sources' -- is such a model of shoddy, irresponsible, and (ironically enough) intellectually shallow ‘journalism' that it ought to be studied carefully."
9. Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic on airport security (from 2008, but timely): "I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America device called a 'Beerbelly'.... which fit comfortably over my beer belly [and] contained two cans' worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government."
8. Stephen Holmes on Chris Caldwell for The American Prospect: "If Caldwell and his fellow doomsayers are to be believed, Muslims have now done what they failed to do at the gates of Vienna in 1683. They have breached Europe's defenses and created 'beachheads' behind enemy lines....Some may object that this way of seeing Europe's immigration problem is inflammatory, but the more serious problem is that it makes no sense."
7. David Rieff on Daniel Jonah Goldhagen for the National Interest: "It is hard to believe that the erstwhile-Harvard political scientist turned full-time moralist, pro-Israel polemicist and amateur historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen could have a more devoted admirer than, well, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen."
6. Barney Frank at a town hall meeting, responding to a protester who said he supported a "Nazi policy": "On what planet do you spend most of your time?...Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it."
5. Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone on Goldman Sachs: "The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."
4. Jacob Heilbrunn on Ban Ki-moon in Foreign Policy: "As secretary-general, Ban's soporific effect has never left him. One U.N. watcher told me that Ban is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around to witness its crash-if you don't hear him, does he really exist?"
3. Rory Stewart in the London Review of Books on Afghanistan counterinsurgency jargon: "After seven years of refinement, the policy seems so buoyed by illusions, caulked in ambiguous language and encrusted with moral claims, analogies and political theories that it can seem futile to present an alternative."
2. Betsy Kolbert in The New Yorker on Superfreakonomics: "To be skeptical of climate models and credulous about things like carbon-eating trees and cloudmaking machinery and hoses that shoot sulfur into the sky is to replace a faith in science with a belief in science fiction. This is the turn that SuperFreakonomics takes, even as its authors repeatedly extol their hard-headedness."
1. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the failure to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora: "Removing the al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat. But the failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan."
Chris Hayes in the Barnes and Noble Review on Ralph Nader's novel
Conor Clarke on Sarah Palin on cap and trade for the Daily Dish
Jon Stewart with Betsy McCaughey
Jon Stewart with Jim Cramer
Ezra Klein on the Republican budget proposal
Matt Yglesias on Greg Mankiw
U.S. President Barack Obama to CNN's Ed Henry
The New York Times editorial board on Lou Dobbs
Stephen Walt on the myth of al Qaeda safe havens for Foreign Policy
Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert on Oprah Winfrey for Newsweek
Maureen Tkacik on CNBC for the Columbia Journalism Review
David Rothkopf on the Commerce Department for Foreign Policy
Finnish citizens now have a legal right to broadband access:
[E]very person in Finland (a little over 5 million people, according to a 2009 estimate) will have the right of access to a 1Mb broadband connection starting in July. And they may ultimately gain the right to a 100Mb broadband connection.
Just more than a year ago, Finland said it would make a 100Mb broadband connection a legal right by the end of 2015. Wednesday's announcement is considered an intermediate step.
France, one of a few countries that has made Internet access a human right, did so earlier this year. France's Constitutional Council ruled that Internet access is a basic human right. That said, it stopped short of making "broadband access" a legal right.
Cory Doctorow looks at the bigger picture:
It's also significant because the EU is trying to pass legislation on behalf of the record industry that would require European ISPs to cut off your Internet access if you were accused -- without proof or a court case -- of infringing copyright. Recognizing that broadband is a right makes this much harder to square with norms of justice and human rights.
“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
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