Should you wear your Guy Fawkes mask in Dubai this week?

Not unless you want to attract some attention from the fuzz. Dubai authorities warned last month that anyone seen wearing a V For Vendetta mask "risks police questioning". The admonition was mainly directed at anyone who might be planning protests for the UAE's National Day -- which was yesterday -- but one wonders if they might also have been thinking about this week's World Conference on International Telecommunications

It's not just mask-wearing Anons who have expressed concern about the 193-country conference being organized in Dubai this week by the International Telecommunication Union -- a U.N. agency-- which is intended to update the 1988 International Telecommunication Regulations for the Internet era.

Participants including the European Union and the United States are opposed to proposals by some countries -- notably Russia -- that countries should have power to manage their own Internet domain names, as well as any move to give the ITU greater regulatory power over the Internet. Companies like Google argue that the ITU -- an organization founded in 1865 to manage telegraph communications -- shouldn't have jurisdiction over the Internet at all and that decisions regarding Internet architecture should not be made by government regulators.

There are also widespread concerns among internet content producers like Google and Facebook over a proposal by a coalition of European telecom network operators as well as some developing country governments that would require web companies to pay a fee to access local telecoms networks. And pretty much everyone is upset about the lack of transparency in the run-up to the conference.

Meanwhile, ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun Touré, from Mali, has admonished wealthy governments and Internet content giants to remember that "when you talk of internet freedom, most people in the world cannot even access the internet. The internet is the rich world's privilege and ITU wants to change that."

There's also a separate debate over how much any of this will matter. The opinions range from Internet pioneer Vint Cerf argues that the decisions made in Dubai this week have "the potential to put government handcuffs on the Net". (He has also referred to government regulators as a "breed of dinosaurs, with their pea-sized brains".)

On the other hand, as several blogs have pointed out, the most radical proposals -- such as Russia's -- are unlikely to be adopted, whatever treaty does come out of the meeting will have essentially no enforcement power, and it's not as if authoritarian governments aren't doing a perfectly good job censoring web content already. 

It certainly seems ill-advised to give more Internet regulatory power to national governments or to a U.N. agency, though I can also understand how odd it must look to users in other countries that much of the net's administration is in the hands of U.S.-based entities like Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which -- though now independent -- have their origins in U.S. Defense Department projects.

Bringing together web companies, NGOs, and governments to discuss the future of the internet's administration certainly seems like a worthwile project. But given the atmosphere of mutual suspicion in which this conference is taking place, I'm not too optimistic about a productive outcome.  

TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)


Twitter advice for the Pope

The Vatican announced today that Pope XVI will begin tweeting under the handle @Pontifex. Though his first Tweet is not expected until Dec. 12, the English-language papal account already has over 112,000 followers:

"We are going to get a spiritual message. The Pope is not going to be walking around with a Blackberry or an iPad and no-one is going to be putting words into the Pope's mouth," Greg Burke, senior media advisor to the Vatican said.

"He will tweet what he wants to tweet," he added, though the leader of the world's 1.2 billion or so Roman Catholics is expected to sign off, rather than write, each individual tweet himself.

We applaud St. Peter's successor for embracing social media, but navigating Twitter can be tough for even the holiest of noobs. Here's a bit of unsolicited advice for His Holiness:

1. Learn from your peers 

As Nick Kristof suggests, Benedict could do worse than to study the Dalai Lama's extremely popular account as a model for how religious leaders can use Twitter. @DalaiLama is mostly short nuggets of Buddhist teaching with occasional commentary on current events and some non-obnoxious self-promotion.  (We'll give him a pass on the Dave Matthews twitpics.) The Pope may also want to get a translation of Salman al-Odah's feed to see how the Saudi cleric has built up nearly 2 million followers or look at Twitter-loving American evangelist Joyce Meyer who has more than 1.5 million. 

2. Follow some people

Too many celebrities and leaders on Twitter make the mistake of using it only as a transmission system without following any other users. Benedict could start with other religious leaders, or political figures like Barack Obama and David Cameron. Nobody's expecting Benedict to follow Richard Dawkins just to prove he's open-minded, but perhaps following a few slightly critical feeds such the National Catholic Reporter -- which advocates ordaining female priests, for instance -- could broaden his information diet a bit without angering the man upstairs. 

3. Interact, but don't flame

Responding or retweeting followers can help give them the sense that there's a real person behind the handle. Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the master of using Twitter to communicate directly with constituents on issues as small as stray pitbulls. That level of engagement probably isn't possible for a global figure like Benedict, but it wouldn't hurt to periodically engage directly with the flock. 

What he should be careful to avoid is getting into the kind of angry flame wars carried out in recent months by the presidents of Rwanda, Estonia, and Azerbaijan. It's not very becoming of the Holy See to start arguments over politics or points of doctrine with obnoxious journalists. 

4. Don't sweat the parodies

The Pope is a major world figure. He's going to be mocked on Twitter. He should handle it like Mike Bloomberg, not like the New York Times.

5. Proofread 

Trusting others to do one's tweeting, as Benedict appears to be doing, can be risky. Ban Ki-moon likely wasn't too thrilled when the U.N.'s official feed tweeted out his support for a "1-state solution" last week." God's Emissary on Earth should probably double-check to make sure his staff are getting the wording right in all eight languages

As for whether RTs = encyclicals, he probably has to figure that our on his own.