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A Website and Weblog about Topics and Issues discussed in the book
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold

Geo-tagging the Twitter Activity of Madrid Protesters
October 1st, 2012

Twitter is once again a pivotal mobile and online media tool for supporting social change. Spanish protesters in Madrid are making heavy use of it. Geo-location or geo-tagging technologies are now mapping the intensity of protests by measuring their so-called temperature by the number of tweets per hour in different locations. This way, the pulse of the protests is continuously and conscientiously monitored. You can take a look at the protests dynamics on Web 3.0 Lab.

Crowdsourcing the Response to the 2010 Haitian Earthquake Disaster
September 8th, 2012

Besides the earthquake in January, 2010, Haiti went through other major earthquakes in the recent recorded history, namely in 1770 and 1846. Although the previous earthquakes were estimated as being even more powerful, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 was more damaging because the area was a lot more populated than in the past. Still, the response to the disaster was the fastest due to crowdsourcing and instant messaging technology.

The blog about Mission 4636, which is owned by a lot of people and kept updated by Robert Munro from when he was coordinating the Mission 4636 efforts, describes how a free phone number (4636), a lot of volunteer effort (international, from Haitians in Diaspora, but mostly local Haitians) and also paid workers played a central role in the recovery period that followed after the disaster. The affected people sent around 80.000 messages through 4636, asking for help. Those messages were translated from Haitian Creole (or Kreyol), geolocated, categorized by level of emergency and importance, and distributed to various emergency responders and aid organizations by volunteers and paid crowdsourced workers gathered together into what is now known as “Mission 4636″. By help of this coordinated initiative, hundreds of Haitians were rescued and tens of thousands received first aid, food, water, medicine and other kinds of help and services.

A synthesis of the “Mission 4636″ report that will soon appear in the Journal of Information Retrieval straightens up a few misrepresented or unmentioned before realities (like the true percent of involvement from local Haitians when compared to international help, the significant role played by paid crowdsourced workers and the choosing of volunteers based on strong social ties), highlights the main findings, makes a few recommendations for future similar initiatives, and provides a few heartwarming testimonials coming from Haitians who volunteered for “Mission 4636″ from Diaspora.

The Chilean Penguin Revolution Continues Under Volunteer Watch
August 31st, 2012

The Chilean Penguin Revolution started in 2006, as a voice of the young democracy. Students wanted educational reforms, more generous budgets for education, a diminishing of educational disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods. Since they were officially living in a participatory democracy, they made use of their right to get involved in the democratic process, to protest against the educational status quo, and to spark a national debate. They proved they are not a selfish generation of pure consumers, but a generation concerned about the future of their younger brothers and sisters. In the beginning, they had a crushing majority of the population of their side (75% at a survey), a percent that declined a bit afterwards, but the support still remained strong. Everybody waited to see what the revolution of the students in black and white uniforms will bring.

Forward six years in time, and we are in 2012. The Penguin Revolution is far from over. Student still occupy school and university buildings in Santiago and other parts of the country, go on hunger strikes, organize marches that gather 10.000 strong, and use forms of protest that vary from soft and peaceful to radical and violent, like building barricades, throwing rocks and damaging public and private property. All that inevitably gives rise to street confrontations with the police. Police actions have become themselves more radical since last year: students get arrested, beaten (head injuries, broken noses, convulsions and breathing problems), dispersed with water cannons, submitted to tear gas and even to sexual humiliations.

But the students are not alone anymore. Their demonstration dynamics are watched from the side by volunteers called “helmets” because of the white or blue helmets they wear. An article from the New York Times covering the story describes that the volunteers are “ordinary citizens of all ages and walks of life, professionals and blue-collar workers, university students and retirees” and they are “armed with notebooks, cameras, voice recorders and gas masks”. One group is the Human Rights Observers and wears white helmets that are also wore by the members of Sutra, a labor union. The Observers and Defenders of Human Rights are the ones wearing blue helmets. The volunteers don’t interfere with the demonstrations, adopting a purely observatory and documentary stance, taking notes, jotting down names and car plates, taking pictures and recording audio and video material. Much of the information is posted immediately of Twitter. Their combined reports from the field are submitted to human rights commissions and organizations, and can serve in the future as proof at related trials.

Challenging government efficiency with digital activism and crowd-sourced disaster response
August 26th, 2012

Patrick Meier speaks in his latest blog post of a positive feedback loop between civil resistance protests and crowdsourced disaster responses. He gives various eloquent examples (the “Coup de text” against Estrada in Philippines from 2001 and the crowd-sourced response efforts to the disaster in 2012; the fires of 2010 and the recent Krymsk floods in Russia; the Egyptian revolution; the Iranian Green Revolution from 2009; even the Cyclone Bhola and the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan through a war of independence in the pre-SMS era of the 1970s).

He talks about social media and online networking platforms as tools to mobilize and coordinate masses of people into action. FB can be a scheduling tool for meetings, Twitter can be used for coordination, and YouTube as a channel for broadcasting events, like in the case of the Egyptian Revolution. From an urge to speed relief responses to natural disasters, digitally savvy activists and volunteers have come to go around and ahead of governments, and that also serves as a potential form of non-violent protest and civil resistance. Their actions have the effect of increasing their social capital as online and offline activists and of challenging the readiness and efficiency of governments. Such events become windows of opportunity for catalyzing regime change.

One striking analogy that goes through my mind is that of the Internet and social media spreading into the society like nerves growing into a body, linking all of its different parts, moving information up and down with light speed, making possible the coordinated contraction of social muscles. Like cells inside a body, people demonstrate without any doubt that, given a social nervous system, so to speak, they can communicate and act together very efficiently towards common goals and the benefit of the whole social corpus. They learn to route around corrupt or inefficient governments like new blood vessels forming around clogged and diseased vessels, so that the social tissues are still nourished and oxygenated, and can organize political activist movements in order to dissolve and eliminate such deficient governments like tumors. Along with the information revolution, the social body evolved new abilities to protect and heal itself.

The perils of juxtaposition: Aurora
July 21st, 2012


Our hearts go out to all the bereaved.

This post is not about the tragic Aurora shooting, but about internet advertising mechanics.

**

If you know me & my Hipbone project, you know I’m always on about juxtaposition as a means of generating a sort of stereoscopic depth of understanding from two similar — or opposite — ideas, images etc.

And yes indeed, the juxtaposition of ideas and the creative leaps that juxtaposition generates are at the heart of the Sembl game approach that Cath Styles and I are prototyping.

Board for an iPad Sembl game + detail of a single move

-- image: board for an iPad Sembl game + detail of single move

But look, you need to have some sense of context.

And neither current algorithms nor remote humans seem to be terribly good at this.

**

aurora-boutique

The Celeb Boutique tweet above was posted when the word Aurora started trending after the recent awful cinema shooting, and was up for an hour before someone realized how inappropriate it was and took it down. In subsequent tweets, the boutique apologized and noted “our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend…”

I think that’s extremely unfortunate, but somewhat understandable: human error, outsourced.

The humans in question should have been as savvy as Paul Coelho, who counseled (just a day earlier, if I’m getting my dates right) as follows:

coelho-google-before-you-tweet

**

Then there was the Christian Science Monitor‘s article, Colorado shooting: A rare glimpse into Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, which showed up on my friend Critt Jarvis‘ monitor with this ad:

Again, that’s unfortunate — but the CSM’s ads are presumably chosen by algorithm, and I wouldn’t know where to send an algorithm to repent if I met one and it was sincerely apologetic…

The CSM website does offer us humans an opportunity to object to ads we find tasteless and inappropriate, however:

The Monitor is committed to showing only those ads that meet our standards for appropriate content. These particular ads are sold by internet advertising partners who share the revenue with The Christian Science Monitor. We have implemented filters with them that are designed to prevent unacceptable advertising from showing on the site. If you feel an inappropriate ad is being displayed, please contact us immediately using the form below. Ads that violate our acceptance standards will be removed from the site and our filters will be adjusted to help prevent a recurrence.

So humans can backtop the algorithms when they play foul… that’s good.

**

But all this just reinforces my appreciation for Cath Stylestweet last week, after she met with Mel from Serena (neat video, btw!):

sembl-turing-test

There’s still no machine substitute for human wit and wisdom.

Protecting YouTube’s Revolutionaries
July 19th, 2012

YouTube is launching a new face-blurring tool that will instantly blur out the faces of everyone in a video. Basically, all a savvy protester has to do is enter YouTube’s video enhancement tool and click “Blur Faces.” They then get a preview of the new blurred-out video, which they can save as a new copy. The original video can then be deleted, and the updated video can be shared without fearing for the safety of the protesters featured in it. YouTube says there are still a few kinks in the system, mainly that “it sometimes has difficulty detecting faces depending on the angle, lighting, obstructions and video quality.” Still, the fact that YouTube, by far the world’s biggest video-sharing site, is implementing this technology before anyone else is good news for democracy activists.

via The Dish by Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Beast)

Footwear for the blind. Bluetooth shoes
July 16th, 2012

The tools to assist the blind in walking have changed little since the 1920s. This may change if Anirudh Sharma, a 24-year-old computer engineer from Hyderabad, a city in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, has his way.

His innovation, dubbed “Le Chal” (“take me along” in Hindi) pairs a smartphone app with a small actuator sewn inside the sole of one shoe via Bluetooth. The user tells the phone his desired destination, which is translated into electronic commands using voice-recognition software. The app, which can be programmed to run in the background, fetches the local map of the area. The phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) tracks the person’s location in real-time, telling the actuator to vibrate when it is time to turn. The side of the shoe where the vibration is felt indicates which way to go. Mr Sharma opted for a vibrating signal because for the blind, who rely on their sense of hearing to make sense of the environment, audio feedback is a distraction.

The system does not require constant internet access. Once downloaded, maps can be stored locally and combined with GPS data. The app uses Open Street Maps (OSM), an open-source rival to Google Maps. OSM allows editing, a helpful feature in updating rapidly changing urban landscapes. A speed-dial function can rapidly retrieve the most frequently visited routes.

Read the full report on this story by A.A.K. MUMBAI on his Economist blog post

The State Of Mobile App Privacy Policies
July 16th, 2012

The Washington, D.C.-based think tank Future of Privacy Forum (“FPF”) released a study detailing the current state of mobile app privacy policies as of this past month, June 2012.

Read Sarah Perez Techcrunch article The State Of Mobile App Privacy Policies

The report found that many app developers are now responding to the increased pressure from U.S. regulators on this issue, and have now introduced privacy policies for their applications as well as new policies surrounding the use of customers’ private data.

As cell surveillance has ballooned is it the end of privacy?
July 16th, 2012

Cellphones, e-mail, and online social networking have come to rule daily life, but Congress has done nothing to update federal privacy laws to better protect digital communication. That inattention carries a heavy price.

Read the whole editorial in the New York Times of July 14 with the headline: The End of Privacy?.

Wireless carriers reported responding to a whopping 1.3 million demands from law enforcement agencies for subscriber information, including location data, calling records and text messages. The number of people whose information was turned over is almost certainly much higher because a single request for a cell tower “dump” could sweep in the names of thousands of people connected to a given tower at a certain time.

A host of lessons on the web, with room for admiration
June 13th, 2012

[ cross-posted from Zenpundit -- Farrall and McCants, online debate and discourse]
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.

There’s a whole lot to be learned about jihad, counter-terrorism, scholarship, civil discourse, online discourse, and social media, and I mean each and every one of those, in a debate that took place recently, primarily between Leah Farrall and Will McCants.

Indeed, Leah still has a final comment to make — and when she makes it, that may be just the end of round one, if I may borrow a metaphor from a tweet I’ll quote later.
.

1.

Briefly, the biographies of the two main agonists (they can’t both be protagonists, now, can they? I believe agonist is the right word):

Dr. Leah Farrall (left, above) is a Research Associate at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre (USSC). She was formerly a senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the AFP’s al Qaeda subject matter specialist. She was also senior Intelligence Analyst in the AFP’s Jakarta Regional Cooperation Team (JRCT) in Indonesia and at the AFP’s Forward Operating Post in response to the second Bali bombings. Leah has provided national & international counter terrorism training & curriculum development. She recently changed the name of her respected blog. Her work has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and elsewhere.

Dr. William McCants, (right) is a research analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies at CNA, and adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He has served as Senior Adviser for Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, program manager of the Minerva Initiative at the Department of Defense, and fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. He edited the Militant Ideology Atlas, co-authored Stealing Al Qa’ida’s Playbook, and translated Abu Bakr Naji‘s Management of Savagery. Will has designed curricula on jihadi-inspired terrorism for the FBI. He is the founder and co-editor of the noted blog, Jihadica. He too has been published in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic and elsewhere.
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2.

Gregory Johnsen, the Yemen expert whose tweets I follow, noted:

Watching @will_mccants and @allthingsct go at it, is like watching heavyweights spar for the title about 17 hours

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross commented on the civility of the exchanges:

it was an excellent model of argument within this sphere. Competitive analysis is important, and it is generally best when conducted in the open, as this has been. Further, the exchange has been respectful and collegial, something that is atypical for today’s debates.

Between those two comments, you have the gist of why this debate is significant — both in terms of topic and of online conduct.
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3.

The debate started with a blog post by Leah, went to Twitter where the back and forth continued for several days, was collated on Storify, received further exploration on several blogs, turned sour at the edges when an article on Long War Journal discussing Leah’s original blog post draw some less than civil and less than informed drive-by remarks in its comments section, and continues…

And to repeat myself: all in all, the debate is informative not only about its topics — issues to do with terrorism and targeting — but also in terms of what is and isn’t possible in online dialog and civil discourse on the web.
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4.

Leah Farrall’s Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed was the counter-intuitive (but perhaps highly intuitive) blog post which began the debate, and perhaps her key paras were these:

And if he has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally) have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true.

What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear.

I say, “counter-intuitive” because, as Leah herself notes, this is not the received opinion — “Right now you’re probably scoffing at this” she writes. And I say intuitive because Leah may be the one here who whose insight comes from herself not the crowd, who sees things from a fresh angle because she has a more wide angle of vision, who is in fact intuiting a fresh and revealing narrative…

Not that she’s necessarily right in this, and not that it would be the whole picture if she was — but that she’s challenging our orthodoxies, giving us food for thought — and then, having read her, we need to see how clearly thought out the response is, how strongly her challenge withstands its own challenges… how the debate unfolds.
.

5.

I am not going to summarize the debate here, I am going to give you the pointers that will allow you to follow it for yourselves.

It is very helpful indeed for those who are interested in this unfolding debate, that Khanserai has twice Storified the initial bout of tweets between Farrall and McCants.

Khanserai’s second Storify is the one to read first, as it offers the whole sweep of several days of tweeting. That’s the full braid. Khanserai’s earlier Storify is worth reading next. It concerned itself solely with Leah’s significant definitional distinctions regarding discriminate vs indiscriminate targeting and targets vs victims.

There’s a lot to read and even more to mull right there, but the persevering dissertation writer for whom this is the ideal topic will then want to read a number of significant posts triggered by the debate:

Jarret Brachman was among the first to comment on al-Libi’s reported demise, in a post titled In a Nutshell: Abu Yahya’s Death. I don’t know if his post appeared before or after Leah’s, but his comment is congruent with hers:

The cats that Abu Yahya and Atiyah had been herding for so long will begin to wander. They will make mistakes. They will see what they can get away with. Al-Qaida’s global movement cannot endure without an iron-fisted traffic cop.

I look forward to Brachman’s comments on al-Libi’s “other important role: that of Theological-Defender-in-Chief for al-Qaida”. Another day…

McCants’ On Elephants and Al-Qaeda’s Moderation posted on Jihadica first paraphrases Farall:

Leah argues that the US policy of killing senior al-Qaeda Central leaders is wrongheaded because those leaders are “a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu.” Leah compares these strikes to the practice of killing older elephants to thin a herd, which leaves younger elephants without any respectable elder to turn to for guidance as to how to behave. By analogy, killing senior al-Qaeda Central leaders means there will be no one with enough clout to rein in the younger generation of jihadis when they go astray.

He then argues that while there “might be good reasons not to kill al-Qaeda Central’s senior leaders with drones but their potential moderating influence is not one of them” — and proceeds to enumerate and detail them. His conclusion:

It is hard to imagine a more virulent current in the jihadi movement than that of al-Qaeda Central’s senior leaders. Anyone with a desire or capability of moderating that organization was pushed out long ago. AQ Central may have moderated in how it conducts itself in Muslim-majority countries, but it certainly hasn’t moderated toward the United States, which is what has to be uppermost in the minds of US government counter-terrorism policymakers.

Other responses worth your attention — and I know we’re all busy, but maybe this is an opportunity to dig deeper something that shouldn’t only concern those in search of a dissertation topic — would include:

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross’s The Strategy of Targeting al Qaeda’s Senior Leadership posted at Gunpowder and Lead contains the most thoughtful counterpoint to Leah’s point that I have found:

contrary to Farrall’s argument, a strategic opponent actually seems far more dangerous than an indiscriminate opponent

Clint Watts should be read and pondered, too. His post, It’s OK to Kill Senior al Qaeda Members in Pakistan, tackles Leah’s position from several angles, one of which focuses on her “law enforcement” perspective on terror:

I am with Leah that in an ideal world, it would be great to capture, convict and imprison terrorists. This approach only works when there are effective criminal justice methods for implementing it.

I wonder how he views military vs law enforcement attempts to corner Joseph Kony, but that’s off topic. To return..

Bernard Finel, too, posted a thoughtful piece on The Unsatisfying Nature of Terrorism Analysis, and wrapped up his post with the words:

In short, I’ll keep reading Farrall, McCants, and GR because they are smart, talented folks. They know a lot more than I do. But I can’t help by feel that there just isn’t enough there to make their arguments convincing on a lot of scores.

Those are the heavyweights weighing in, as far as I can see — feel free to add others in the comments section. But then…
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6.

But then there’s Andrew Sullivan in The Daily Beast, asking Are Drones Defensible? in what I found to be a lightweight contribution. As I read it, Sullivan’s key question is:

if you’d asked me – or anyone – in 2001 whether it would be better to invade and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat al Qaeda, or to use the most advanced technology to take out the worst Jihadists with zero US casualties, would anyone have dissented?

as if such a hypothetical — asking about popular opinion rather than ground realities, which are a whole lot more complicated either way — was the right question to be asking. And his conclusion, interesting but unsubtle: “drones kill fewer innocents”.
.

7.

Oh, lightweight is more or less okay in my book, as is the strong affirmation of a strong position.

The editors at Long War Journal clearly feel strongly about Leah’s suggestion, and make no bones about it in a post titled US killing moderate al Qaeda leaders, like Abu Yahya, says CT analyst — which I don’t think is quite what Leah was saying — and opens with the sentence “This is one of the more bizarre theories we’ve heard in a while.”

That, you’ll notice, is a pretty bluntly phrased attack on Leah’s ideas, not her person. But what follows is interesting.

In the comments section at LWJ we see comments like “I assume this young lady is paid for her thoughts. If so by whom? Is she the ACLU lawyer? If so when was her last interview with Abu Yahya al Libi” and “Leah Farrall is one of these many Peter Panners who form a loosely knit confederation of self identified intellectuals with little or no understanding of violence & of those presently arrayed against ‘us’”…

You don’t see comments like those on the other sites I’ve mentioned, and to my mind they show surface ignorance of the deep knowledge that informs the main participants on both sides — and perhaps as a corrollary, the absence of the civility that characterizes the debate as a whole.
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8.

My own interest in terrorism / counterterrorism is explicitly limited to the ways in which theological drivers manifest, and while I read a fair amount about the broader issues into which theology enters, I’m no expert, humble and (inside joke) for the moment at least, more or less clean-shaven.

I am waiting for Leah Farrall’s response to the debate thus far, but have no expectation of being the best proponent of any of the positions or nuances involved: I leave that to the experts, and am glad they are on the case, every one of them.

Two broad context pieces that have caught my attention:

Francine Prose, Getting Them Dead in the NY Review of Books
Patrick B. Johnston, Does Decapitation Work?

For myself, then, the main point here is to acknowledge the knowledge and insights of those who know what I can only guess, or perhaps catch out of the corner of my eye. The second lesson: that there’s much to be found in Joseba Zulaika‘s book, Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables, and Faces of Terrorism.

Even a brief glimpse of the book when Leah mentioned it has convinced me once again that Zulaika’s is a voice worth attending to.
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9.

But wait, I am a Howard Rheingold friend, I’m concerned with dialog and deliberation and decency in discourse, not just terrorism and CT — and here I have no need for disclaimers.

What I learn here is that attentive listening to all (the folks in the comments section included) brings knowledge, that incivility frequently accompanies ignorance, and — I hope you will forgive me going all aphoristic here — that nuance is an excellent measure of insight..

This is a debate to admire and follow.




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