Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Google”

Healthcare.gov, Oh my! – Tom Rossi

The launch of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ACA, aka Obamacare) has gone pretty poorly. This has been due to website malfunctions and the resulting (and predictable) media frenzy.

Now I don’t want to discount the possibility (and even probability) of incompetence on the part of the healthcare.gov website designers, but is this really such a surprise? Are these failures really so rare? I think not.

The ACA website is probably the first in history to have such an intense debut. Of course, the designers knew that it would be intense all along but, unlike Facebook, Google, or Amazon, the first day the website was up, it was flooded with “hits“. Other major websites built up gradually as they got more popular.

But even so, are other websites really all that great? I think not. I’ve had problems with almost every website I’ve visited more than once. And some I had problems with the first time and that’s exactly why I didn’t go back! I’ve filled out forms, clicked “send” or “done” or whatever, only to have my work wiped out with no way to get it back.

Unhappy Customers are not Engaged Visitors

On Hotels.com my wife and I were searching for a room, the site screwed up somehow, and we had to start over. For some reason, when we started over, the calendar on the site set itself a year forward, so we ended up booking a room for a year later than we wanted. To their credit, one of their reps stayed on the phone with us for a half an hour until it was fixed. But even THAT went wrong! I was on my cell phone with a rep, our call got “dropped”, and we had to call back and… start all over with another rep.

Anyone who has visited the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” website knows how bad it is. They’ve only recently figured out how to stream their videos without a bunch of fits and starts interrupting you. Great show. Crappy website.

Have you tried to search for a topic on Dr. Oz’s website? Good luck. Dr. Oz is great, his web designers? Aaaaah, not so much. And although things have eventually improved at Expedia.com, at least twice I’ve been at the airport and the numbers they gave us for out itinerary didn’t match the numbers that the airlines expected. The result? About a half-hour delay as one of the now rare ticket agents got my situation straightened out.

I’ve had hours and hours worth of frustrations on websites. Amazon once decided to ship something I ordered to an address that I moved out of ten years earlier. Believe it or not, fixing that took incredible effort. And just try to get something done like contacting Hewlett-Packard support through their website. Here’s a hint – where it says “contact HP” does not lead to the actual ability to contact anyone, just to search their FAQs for the same issue. I tried various methods for almost an hour and finally got ahold of a person… through the phone.

frustration

Unfortunately, Hewlett-Packard doesn’t stand out as a tech company with a bad website. Apple, Dell, Microsoft, almost anybody you can name has a clunky, ridiculously overblown website where it’s incredibly difficult to solve an actual problem. To a lesser degree, even Google’s basic search engine seems to go on vacation, once in a while.

Web sites have problems. They also almost universally have bad designs at their core. And most of these websites have had years to improve. How many times have I entered some serial number or something on a website and it comes back with an error: “You must enter a serial number”? How many times has a website crashed on me, just as I thought I was getting through all the steps to accomplish something?

frustrated_computer_user_resize_922164479

The ACA website, healthcare.gov’s problems are not that big a surprise to me at all, not after trying to change my address on the California DMV website – another winner. The healthcare.gov problems simply make news because any failure associated with the ACA is automatically news. And the pundits are using their usual “I’m not saying this, I’m just asking” method to “ask” if this all means that the ACA is a failure. That’s sensationalism, and that’s today’s pathetic excuse for journalism. End of story.

I hope everybody will calm down, ride out the problems, and get themselves some high quality health coverage. I’m going to do just that. Website problems aside, next year I’ll finally be able to afford going to the doctor, if I need to.

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

___________________________________________________________________________

The Moron Interview – Tom Rossi

One of the things that often angers me about journalism (hey, what would I do with myself if I wasn’t angry about something?) in recent years is the way that time is wasted during network television news broadcasts.

Video: I LOVE being angry!

 watch?v=i9R09GVzTCA

News shows on TV are usually broken up into half-hour segments. They may be scheduled for an hour like, say, the “5 o’clock news,” but often the second half hour starts off repeating the top stories from the first half hour. That’s the first way that valuable time is eliminated – repitition.

 

Then, there is the inevitable story about some celebrity. This is never an actual news story like, “Jennifer Aniston goes on shooting spree in the U.S. House of Representatives.” No, it’s always something like, “Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorcing.” Tripe.

 

Then, if that wasn’t enough time wasted on Hollywood “news,” it’s followed by the “Hollywood Minute,” “What’s up in Hollywood,” or “Celebrity Corner,” or something equally ridiculous (it’s never only a minute, by the way).

 

Then there might be a legitimate (sort of) news story as sort of a break in the inanity, followed by a newish and horrifying phenomenon, the “What’s Hot on Twitter/Google/Facebook” segment. Really? Is this news? Is there really nothing more important going on than this?

 

As stupid, annoying, and wasteful of my time and, worse, the opportunity to actually inform the populace about current events and concerns these useless segments and stories are, they pale in comparison to the most offensive snippet of all: the street moron interview.

 

“Yeah, the train got shut down, I guess, and I had to wait over two hours to get on a bus to get to work. I was late and everything.”

 

“I never saw anything like it! It was mud! Just flowing down the street!”

 

“I was just standing out here and, like, I heard, like, “pop, pop, pop!” And I looked, and this dude was, like, laying in the street, and I was like, ‘Whoa!'”

 

What purpose do these interviews serve? What insight do they provide into the events? Why are these interviews taking up my news time?

 

In the never ending quest to make news more “entertaining,” the news deteriorates further and further. During a half hour news cast a few months ago, I saw an eight-minute story about one of the Jonas brothers doing a solo album. And when news room managers are asked about this pathetic state of affairs, they always say: “That’s what people want.”

 

It’s not what I want. And the people who want Hollywood gossip don’t watch the news. News managers are failing in their responsibility to inform the public. They are violating our trust. They are depriving us of opportunities to educate ourselves about the community and the world around us. Those of us who actually want news are getting sick of it and turning, more and more, to the internet. With considerable research, we are finding better alternatives.

 

Before I forget…

This just in: Michael Jackson is still dead.

 

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

___________________________________________________________________________

 

 

The Online forum – A Place for Answers? – Tom Rossi

I’m taking a little break from politics this week. Stop the ride or I’m gonna barf. Instead, I present another of life’s annoyances.

I hate it so much when I or someone else asks a question on a forum on the internet and people answer with what they think or assume but they have no actual knowledge of the answer.

Here’s my impression of the typical online forum discussion:

YahooMicrosoftAppleGoogleKingOscarSardines Discussion Forum

New thread

Posted by Elmerglooigloo654:

Hi everyone. I’m new to this forum. Can anyone tell me if it’s safe to plug my computer into a socket with only two holes? The computer power cord has three prongs, but they sell those converter things that take it down to two.

Thanks in advance.

Replies

TestasRossas9753:

Elmer, that’s the first thing they ask you when you call support for a computer, “Is it plugged in?”

Joetheplumper:

I had the same problem. I just cut off the extra prong with a pair of dikes.

Jenniiii2112:

That’s what happened to me! I was like, Duh! After I plugged it in, everything was OK. My computer gets way too hot, though.

Barbariomustachio666:

Plugs have three thingies on there now because we have 3-way electricity now. You need all three kinds.

Babaphooey.3.95:

I think it’s safe. I’ve been doing the same thing for years. I’ve had a few system crashes, but I don’t think it’s related. The new ones I replaced them with worked fine, at least for a while.

Ekiekipakang001:
The electricity that comes out of the wall is at a frequency of 60Hz. It’s at a voltage of 110, 120, or 220 volts, depending on where you live. Is your microprocessor running at 65megaMIPS? Or is it made by Microyamasakaco, and therefore 64.85megaMIPS?

IROCgenie1984:

Jenniiiiiiiiiiii, you must be some kind of moron. Of course your computer gets hot. It’s sitting on your lap, one of the warmest parts of your body. If you want your computer to run cooler, drink some ice water or something. But don’t waste our time on this forum!

BrattyMattyBoomington64:

How dare you say “dikes!” I’m so sick of this sexist, racist, genderist society! Joetheplumper, your nothing but pig. If you actually had any balls, I’d cut them off!

Elmerglooigloo654:

Ekie, I’m not sure how many MIPS my system runs. Is this important?

99redbuffoons:

Did you know the end of an electrical cord is called a “dongle?” That’s funny.

Quirkiedork123:

I wouldn’t do it. If the thing came that way, use it that way. You have to trust the company. I had a Ford Pinto for years without any problems.

JohnCleese1977:

I discovered that the only reason it had been sitting on its perch at all was that it had been nailed there.

Waltzowizard.loves.Wilma:

Three-way electricity???? Dude, u r we Todd did.

Inthinkerator757:

I think that third, long prong on the plug is just an anchor. It just makes the plug stay in place better.

Jenniiii2112:

Youre the moron IROC cheeseball! For your information, I always use my laptop on a table. The table isn’t hot. Unless I just spilled some coffee or something. Anyway, my thoughts are just as important as yours. If you want your time unwasted, go back to playing space invaders or whatever.

Ekiekipakang001:

Elmer, it matters because it makes a difference what memory module you’re accessing at the time. If it’s 0000 BA16, for example, then you have to have enough power through your capacitance to flip the ifindibulator to the RFMA state. But that would change if, say, you were accessing memory module 0010 BA15. Understand?

Joetheplumper:

Bratty, it’s a tool! You idiot!

Barbariomustachio666:

Look, Waltzowizard.loves.Wilma, Ekiekipakang001 totally confirmed what I’m talking about. He (and he sounds like a pretty smart guy) says that there’s 110, 120, and 220 volts. There. Whoz retarded now? Yes, I figured it out. Smart ass.

BuckGlenBeck09:

Wow. Just… wow.

BrattyMattyBoomington64:

So now you’re calling us tools?!?!? Listen, Plumper, you have dug your grave deep. I’m going to call the women in your family and have them slap you. I suppose by “tool” you mean something to use to entertain yourself by “watching.” You make me sick.

Muchomacho.Z28.Brooklyn:

Yo! IROC man! I used to have and IROC! They rule! Mine was super dark purple – almost black. It looked like some kind of ominous spirit coming down the street at night. Awesome!

Kiddieridebarfbag1111:

Dongle… that is funny. LOL!

Elmerglooigloo654:

Um, can someone who actually knows something just try to answer my question?

Please?

-Tom Rossi

___________________________________________________________________________

Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

___________________________________________________________________________

My Target Audience – Who Are You?

I recently asked readers of my elfwriter blog to help me define a target audience, a cornerstone of any book marketing plan. It occurred to me, almost two years after The Accidental Activist was published and a few months before Unwanted Heroes is launched, I still fumble over what my genre is and to whom I am marketing. Transformational fiction is a good topic when I give talks, and social justice-themed novels is rather a mouthful, but the first reaction is, at best, an inquisitive frown.

Twitter has offered an interesting insight into this. When looking to grow your following, you check out people who your target audience is following. Given the content of both Left Coast Voices and my social justice orientated novels, I have looked into the Democratic Party, President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. I have also followed a number of publishing gurus hoping to attract other writers and authors.

I once wrote an elevator pitch about my writing: I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can help create a better world.

If you read this ‘genre’ of novels, please take a minute and answer the following questions in the comments below:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in a novel?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. What examples have you read of social justice themed novels? Why do you remember them?

Thank you for taking the time to help me with this. Please pass it on to anyone that you think might be able to help. Have a great weekend,

Alon

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Who Are My Target Audience?

I recently asked readers of my elfwriter blog to help me define a target audience, a cornerstone of any book marketing plan. It occurred to me, almost two years after The Accidental Activist was published and a few months before Unwanted Heroes, that I still fumble over what my genre is and to whom I am marketing. Transformational fiction is a good topic when I give talks, and social justice-themed novels is rather a mouthful.

Twitter has offered an interesting insight into this. When looking to grow your following, you check out people who your target audience is following. Given the content of both Left Coast Voices and my social commentary orientated novels, I have looked into the Democratic Party, President Obama and Nancy Peolsi. I have also followed a number of publishing gurus hoping to attract other writers and authors.

I once wrote an elevator pitch about my writing: I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can make a better world.

If you read this ‘genre’ of novels, please take a minute and answer the following questions in the comments below:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in a novel?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. What examples have you read of social justice themed novels? Why do you remember them?

Thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey. Please pass it on to anyone you think might share our interest.

 Alon

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Churning Out Books in the Digital Age

The world of publishing is changing rapidly and I think, for the most part, that is good. The industry was bloated, wasteful, expensive, and an environmental disaster. The move to eBooks, the competition from those who can now publish their own works or create their own boutique publishing company, means that even the best authors need to avoid complacency.

Ready to be pulped. A shame we can’t plant them and replace the trees.

But there are inevitable side effects to this new shift.  One such phenomenon was spotlighted by Julie Bosman, in an article entitled: “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking.” Ms. Bosman gathered any quotes from other sources mentioned in this post.

In the previous model, writing a book a year was considered impressive and many A-list authors struggled to achieve this level of creative input. Now, however, with an audience thirsting for more, and having instant accessibility with eReaders and falling prices, publishers are demanding more from their authors, often in the form of short stories, articles, novellas, and often as not, another full length novel.

It is all about presence on the Internet and publishers are demanding that their authors are out there. It is not just books, but a social media presence. Authors are expected to be on twitter, blogging, Google+, Facebook, giving interviews and blog tours.

“It used to be that once a year was a big deal,” said Lisa Scottoline, a best-selling author of thrillers. “You could saturate the market. But today the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.”

Ms. Scottoline is now producing two books a year, doubling her writing output, and this is often fueled by a fear that readers won’t hang around waiting for the next book, but will move on to the next author.

Publishers are often demanding short stories to be published in between novels and prior to a launch, especially when a series is being produced over several years.  Lee Child, who writes the successful Jack Reacher thriller series, publishes these short stories in digital-only format.

“Everybody’s doing a little more,” said Mr. Child, who is published by Delacorte Press, part of Random House. “It seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place.”

Apparently publishers have discovered that a $0.99 short story will drum up support for a new eBook at $12-15 or $25+ for a hardcover. Given the impulsiveness in eBook purchases (if you like one book by an author, you will drop $20 to buy several of their older books) providing a welcome rise in sales of earlier books.  

That can translate into higher pre-order sales for the novel and even a lift in sales of older books by the author, which are easily accessible as e-book impulse purchases for consumers with eReaders.

But where is the balance between asking for more from authors and seeing a decline in the quality or level of creativity from authors? And are we going to see more burn-out from our top authors? And, I can’t help wondering, whether this is why we are seeing a rise in ghostwriting?

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

List of Shame: The 1%’ers Who Dodge Taxes

Let me be clear from the start: this post is not about all those who occupy (excuse the pun) the top 1% of our nation in terms of wealth. This is about those who pay taxes annually to the tune of $1. There are many who worked hard to amass their wealth and are incredibly philanthropic. As the director of a non-profit, I have been honored with many opportunities to meet and work with such people.

These generous people are propelled by a moral code and take a meaningful portion of their money and time to promote social justice issues, to support those in our society who need help – the elderly, the poor, the homeless etc., and provide cultural and educational opportunities that might not be business-viable without such support. This article is NOT about them. I am sure they pay their taxes, understanding that the services they receive – an army to defend them, a police force, fire and emergency response force, the roads they drive on, the street lights…do I need to go on?

But unfortunately there are those billionaires who seem to take pride out of not paying their taxes. These people manage to show a salary of $1. They include such individuals as Eric Schmidt and Larry Page (both Google), Steve Jobs (Apple) from 1997 until his death last year, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Meg Whitman (Hewlett-Packard). And apparently, recently wed and start-up-turned-public Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is about to join this shameful club.

Ironically, these ‘poor’ folk might actually be eligible to receive the kind of government aid that is available for low-income populations. If they keep their personal income under $13,000 they would be able to apply for an Earned Income Tax Credit. While I am sure they won’t collect on this, I hope they appreciate that the taxpayers provide this safety net, but they probably won’t.

There are many ways to ensure that you can live the lifestyle of the super-rich, amass wealth, and not pay taxes. One of these, for example is to hold multiple home equity loans, which is (I think) borrowing money against the values of many of your homes and property. This is debt and therefore not taxable, but it is money for them to jet around and live the life they want. In a country where good folk are losing their homes (their only homes) to foreclosure, isn’t this ironic? There are many other ways and I am not the person to expound on them.

Let us assume that one day the Zukerbergs decide to purchase an island in the Caribbean. Most people who show an income of $1 might be more inclined to buy food, clothes, medical insurance etc., but someone with significant net worth need only cash in a few shares (Facebook anyone?) to make the purchase. For sure, he might have to pay 15% capital gains taxes, but ain’t life a bitch.

To be perfectly clear (once again), I do not resent these people their wealth. I have a deep respect for the philanthropists that I have a relationship with. But I believe in paying taxes and I want everyone who can afford it to pay their share and pay it with grace.

Those billionaires who take pride out of cheating (yes, cheating) our society out of their taxes are screwing not only those of us who pay taxes today, but also failing to help prevent the nation accumulate debt that our children will be saddled with.

For some reason, what hurts even more, is that these people are paying more money for financial advice that helps them avoid tax exposure than I earn in a year…before I pay my taxes.

I work hard for my salary and pay my taxes as I should. I have a right to be angry.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

China and Human Rights Pt. 2

Following on from my blog post on Monday, I have been thinking of the threat China holds over the US. This is not about tanks and nuclear weapons, but money. The US owes China over $1 trillion – I can’t comprehend a number that size.

US companies are falling over themselves to business with China and the government is happy for the revenue.  Ironically, these companies are often collaborating on projects that provide effective tools to quash protests and free speech. A while ago my colleague, Tom Rossi, wrote that corporations exist solely to make money, not to better our society.

Installing surveillance cameras

Here are some examples I provided in an earlier post:

– Cisco Systems (among others) are creating the biggest police surveillance system in the world through a government contract in the city of Chongqing.

– Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, still censors searches in China. Earlier this month, it agreed to provide search results in English for Baidu, China’s leading — and heavily censored — engine. This is taking place 18 months after Google, to avoid aiding the government with such censorship, pulled its search engine out of China.

The Consequences:

1) Shi Tao sits in prison for a 10 year sentence after Yahoo provided copies of his emails to the government.

2) In May 2011, Cisco was sued by Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong who accused the multinational of abetting  the Chinese government through the creation and maintainable of the so-called Golden Shield system. This surveillance system targets and then follows dissidents communicating online, which has led to the detaining and torturing of Falun Gong practitioners.

Cisco took issue with the accusation. The company claims that it does not design it’s programs or equipment to aid the government censor content, intercept communications or track users. It sells the Chinese government standard-issue general network equipment.

In fairness, some of the multinational corporations did begin to take steps after Yahoo’s debacle regarding its role in Shi Tao’s arrest and convictionYahoo, Microsoft and Google joined in the Global Network Initiative which tries to create guidelines to protect “the freedom of expression rights of their users when confronted with government demands, laws and regulations to suppress freedom of expression.”

But these commitments are voluntary. Should the government take a role in clearly setting boundaries? It happened following the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre when companies were barred from selling such technology. Quite rightly, it has been pointed out that effective anti-spam and hacking technology could be adapted to aid repressive regimes.

One executive from Hewlett-Packard, who are bidding for a stake in the Chongqing surveillance project told The Wall Street Journal: “It’s not my job to really understand what they’re going to use it for.”

Really? Is there no responsibility beyond the profit line? Coming from a multinational, probably not.

Which is why, if the United States truly sees itself as the leader of world freedom, it needs to create not guidelines or principles, but laws preventing American technology helping totalitarian regimes. However, we may discover that since our government cannot even get these companies to pay their taxes, it might have little power over such huge economic conglomerates and their powerful lobbyist allies.

Even scarier is the fact that we are confronting a country that is not only strong militarily, but outdoing us financially and to whom we owe over $1 trillion.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt. 2

On Monday we delved into the potential of Twitter as an effective tool for social change and the legal measures that some regimes have taken to curb twitter in their country. Twitter complies with any legal demand that is not restricted to unrest but covers in this country copyright infringement and child pornography.

Twitter does seek to maintain an open trail. It shares all requests for removal though a website called Chilling Effects. This website was created to advocate for freedom on the Internet and, in fact, members of Twitter’s staff are active on the website. In fact, Alexander Macgillivray, a former Google lawyer, and now Twitter’s general counsel, helped create the chillingeffects.org website while at Harvard, as well as crafting Twitter’s censorship policies.

 Twitter stated in a recent post: “One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t.”

Twitter has received praise from a number of free-speech activists who suggest that Twitter’s attempts at transparency have helped them. One such activist, Zeynep Tufekci, who is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, was surprised to find herself praising, not condemning, the policies of an Internet company.

“Twitter is setting the bar as high as it can,” Tufekci said. “It does not deserve the reaction it’s getting.”

Jillian York, who is director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agrees with Tufekci. “Once people see how Twitter is implementing this, they will calm down.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland credited Twitter with being transparent about its approach to censorship but said it was too early to tell if policy would harm users.

However, many remain angry with Twitter for what they clearly define as censorship and are demanding that the new policy is dropped.

Twitter’s executive chairman received a letter from Reporters Without Borders who summed up the sentiment on the street: “Twitter is depriving cyber dissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.”

And this is why Twitter’s actions, which curtail instant self-expression and communication, have led to political protests throughout the world.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt 1

I have been getting into Twitter over the past month, thanks to a workshop at a local brewery (always the best kind) by fellow Left Coast Voices blogger, Roger Ingalls. In a few months, I have steadily attracted more than 10,000 twitter followers and stream this blog to them (@alonshalevsf). In addition, I have gathered more than 8,000 followers for my @elfwriter twitter and blog.

I had originally dismissed Twitter as a platform claiming that it lacked depth. How can you have a conversation with 140 characters? I really began to reevaluate Twitter while watching its role and impact  in the Arab Spring. Suddenly this tool, as a focus for freedom of speech,  became particularly inspiring.

Twitter are well aware of this. Chief Executive Officer, Dick Costolo, refers to it as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” and Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, even named one of their conference rooms “Tahrir Square” as a point of pride at the role that Twitter played in the Egyptian uprising.

So I became somewhat disillusioned to read that Twitter are considering curbing our freedom. In what many view as an about-face, Twitter now says it has the power to block tweets in a specific country if the government legally requires it to do so, triggering outrage around the world, especially in Arab countries.

Dissidents and activists fear the new policy will stifle free speech and thousands of users are threatening to boycott Twitter.

“Is it safe to say that Twitter is selling us out?” asked Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem.

Twitter isn’t alone in its struggle to find a way of maintaining its economic goals while considering itself the free speech platform. Facebook, Google and Yahoo all tentatively try and work around complex laws and state-imposed restrictions used to suppress dissident voices and spread the party line.

All these companies have taken down material posted through their sites because a regime felt threatened by the content or deemed it illegal.

However, Twitter insists that it remains fully committed to free speech. When Twitter removes a tweet, it no longer vanishes from the Web, like it used to. In other words, when a tweet violates the law in one country, it will  still be on the Internet in other countries.

The company will only remove tweets when there is sound legal standing in the specific country and claim this will happen only after an internal review. They will also post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed.

This creates an interesting dilemma. Tweets have a very short lifetime. They are soon buried under an avalanche of other tweets, whether from the same person or others in their following. This can often happen in under a minute and I am guessing that in a situation such as we saw unfold in Tahrir Square, it is a matter of seconds. How effective and timely can an internal review be?

More on Internet censorship on Wednesday.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: