Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Tag: Morocco (page 1 of 10)

IFEX 2011 Liveblog: Ramsey George of Tactical Tech Discusses Info-Activism

Ramsey George of the Tactical Technology Collective conducted a session (several times, and in English and Arabic) on new media and advocacy strategies. Basing his talk partly on Tactical Tech’s excellent “10 Tactics for Turning Information into Activism” film (copies of which were offered to participants), he made the point early on that what people are doing online is very similar to what they’re doing offline when it comes to activism. Or, in other words, an authentic online campaign ties in “real life”, but uses new tools.

Ramsey defines info-activism as: “when rights advocates turn information about their issue into action that addresses it”. He asks us: “Does anyone know the difference between data and information? Data is raw numbers, it has no meaning; when it starts to mean something, it becomes information.” He says that what Tactical Tech does is turn data into stories.

“We don’t want to focus on tools too much,” he says, “because they’re the means, not the end.” Targeted advocacy has a goal; the activist knows what she wants to do. She then adds data–numbers, words–turning it into information, and packaging it. “It’s got to be based on something; it has to have a goal,” says Ramsey.

Evidence-based campaigning is the end goal, and Tactical Tech works with individuals and organizations to make that happen. Images, such as the one below from Egypt, play a huge role.

One of the ten tactics is “witnessing.” An example given is that of the Moroccan “Targuist Sniper,” who in 2007 videotaped police agents in the south of the country taking bribes from drivers. The activist’s videos received hundreds of thousands of views.

Though witnessing may not have a huge impact within a country, it can draw global attention to a cause. This happened with Burma’s “Saffron Revolution,” but also more recently with the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and across the Arab world. In both Egypt and Burma, the regimes–recognizing the threat of digital tools–cut off Internet access.

Safety is also a huge concern for activists using online tools. As WITNESS’s Sam Gregory puts it in Tactical Tech’s video, “we don’t want to double-victimize people who’ve experienced human rights abuses.” Important is helping activists understand potential implications of their work and help them stay safe online.

There are also ways that info activists can ensure their stories aren’t discredited. A recent example from Syria involves a young man whose video was discredited by the regime; the activist then went back and re-recorded himself at each location in the video, showing his identification as well as a newspaper that displayed the date, thus validating the original video.

Ramsey share another video that is a particularly strong example of info-activism:

In the session, we discussed the potential audience for the video–young people, policymakers, gun advocates–as well as what’s particularly effective about the messaging (one thing pointed out: the watermelon is the same size as the young man’s head, causing viewers to visualize the possibility). More information on the campaign is available here.

The ensuing discussion: You need to know who you’re targeting and where your video or image fits into the larger picture; this video, for example, leaves nowhere else to go–it’s essentially the end of a campaign. “This to me fits into a larger strategy,” says Ramsey, “for example, part of the reason young people aren’t afraid of guns is because they don’t understand what could happen.”

Ramsey points out the three-pronged strategy behind rhetorical analysis: Who’s the audience? What’s the message? What tools or strategies are being used?

The next example in the session is TahrirDocuments.org, an Egyptian project that has collected various materials used during the January 25 uprising. One document, leaked early on to the Atlantic, was meant to be kept offline and provided all sorts of images and tactics teaching people how to, for example, deal with tear gas.

Lastly, Ramsey shares the Lebanese Khede Kasra campaign, which advocates for gender equality by tackling gender in the Arabic language (the kasra is placed below the word to address a female and above to address a male, but people default to the masculine). “Khede Kasra” has the double meaning of “getting things moving.” The campaign first approached people on the street, offering them a word without the kasra and seeing where they put it by default. The campaign then moved to television, and became very popular, and thus, effective.

Ramsey says: “They took a really simple idea and built a campaign around it.” The campaign even got the attention of Lebanon’s Prime Minister. “What are some of the strategies that made this effective?” asks Ramsey, “they took a good idea and put it on a ton of platforms, but the key bit is that it was participatory, allowing people to act and be a part of the change. It went beyond the things that they produced.”

We also looked at the Tunisian Presidential Airplane campaign, which Sami Ben Gharbia has highlighted as an early Tunisian info-activism campaign that helped activists in that country build their skills over time, later contributing to the effectiveness of digital tools in the January uprising.

“In Western thought, we’re taught three basic ways to argue something: ethos, logos, and pathos,” says Ramsey, “but they left out a fourth one: mythos. Mythology: a belief in something you can see, you don’t know if it’s right and it may not pull on emotion or make logical sense, but it attracts you. This is an incredibly effective way to argue.”

“Also,” points out Ramsey, “Perception is everything; if people believe something to be real, then it is to them.”

Ramsey also argues that you should take time to identify your active allies, allies, neutral parties, opponents, and active opponents, so you can be prepared to know who to work with, against, and so you know who to challenge.

An effective campaign, argues Ramsey, must be participatory, engaging, easily accessible, and simple, but this is sometimes threatening to organizations, because they have to respond to people. When the audience can engage, so too does the organization. “And the simpler the better,” says Ramsey.

Individuals and organizations interested in learning more about how to leverage digital tools for info-activism can visit Tactical Tech’s website or get in touch with Ramsey.

Microsoft Hotmail: No HTTPS for Arab, Iranian Users

Update 2: Microsoft has fixed the bug; all users can now enable HTTPS.

Update: Further testing by EFF International Activist Eva Galperin found that, in addition to Arab countries and Iran, Myanmar, Nigeria, Kazahstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are also affected.

This morning, a Syrian Hotmail user noted that he could not turn on HTTPS on Hotmail. At closer look, we learned that the user was actually in Jordan, and had his Hotmail location set to Jordan as well…and yet he was still blocked from turning on the “use HTTPS automatically” setting.

Specifically, Microsoft Hotmail’s HTTPS feature states that turning on HTTPS will work for Hotmail over the Web, but will cause errors through external programs.  Users can still force HTTPS temporarily, for a given page.  We have confirmed that users in some of the countries below are able to force HTTPS (either by typing it in manually or using a program like HTTPS Everywhere, however, we cannot confirm that this works for everyone, or on all pages).  In any case, it’s imperative that users have access to encryption all the time.

Replicating the Error

I quickly created a Hotmail account to see if I could replicate the situation; sure enough, when I set my location to the United States, I could turn on HTTPS as a setting, but when I switched to Jordan, I could not. I tested several other Arab countries–Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria–also no HTTPS. I then tested Guatemala, Israel, and Turkey: all fine. France, German: fine. Iran…no HTTPS.

To replicate or test for the error yourself, log in to your Hotmail account and set your location, then try to turn on HTTPS.

The message received by users with their settings turned to one of the aforementioned countries is: Your Windows Live ID can’t use HTTPS automatically because this feature is not available for your account type.

…in which “account type” = Arab/Iranian.

Incidentally, users in the aforementioned countries are able to easily change their location setting to the United States (or another country) and then successfully turn on HTTPS. It is therefore interesting that, whatever Microsoft’s reasons for barring users from HTTPS, they chose not to enforce by IP address.

By contrast, Yahoo mail does not offer HTTPS, while Gmail enforces HTTPS by default in all countries.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft has acted prejudicially toward Arab users: In 2010, my colleague Helmi Noman at the OpenNet Initiative discovered that Microsoft’s Bing was blocking Arabic-speaking users (e.g., those using the Arabic-language/Arab countries version of Bing) from searching for certain terms, mostly related to sexual content.

For activists, there are two courses of action: Either change your location to a country that will allow you to enforce HTTPS or switch to Gmail or another secure service.

As for Microsoft, we’ve let them know about the situation.  It is my hope that this is a mistake and will soon be corrected.  I’ll keep you posted.

Protecting Yourself on Facebook: Tips for Morocco

This morning, I got an alarming note from a friend: Moroccans are experiencing phishing and other account defacements on Facebook, similar to what happened last year (and in January) in Tunisia (en Francais). I asked my friend if Moroccans had HTTPS available, and he explained, “yes, but the problem is Internet illiteracy.” Thus, we decided to quickly publish a few tips for activists using Facebook in Morocco (the piece will be available in French shortly). If you have any suggestions to add, please leave a comment and I’ll incorporate them.

1. Choose a strong password.

The easiest way for someone to gain unwanted access to your account is by figuring out your password. A strong password is a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, plus numbers and symbols. The password should not contain things that are easy to guess, such as your name, a pet’s name, your city, or your school. It should be at least 8 characters long. There are precious few resources on creating a strong “mot de passe” but here is a good English source.

2. Use HTTPS.

Facebook recently rolled out HTTPS to all of its users, including in Morocco, but that selection is not default. To turn on HTTPS, go to “Account” in the upper-right corner of Facebook, then select “Account Settings.” Click “Account Security” (3rd from bottom) and check the boxes that say “Secure browsing (https)” and “When a new computer or device logs into this account.” The first will provide you with encryption, the second will send you an email when someone else has logged into your account.

HTTPS Everywhere is a great tool that works with Firefox and encrypts your communications with lots of major websites.

3. Be cautious of Facebook’s increased security choices.

Facebook allows you to increase your security in three ways: By adding a secondary email address,adding a mobile phone to confirm login, and by adding a security question. The first option is great. The second two come with problems: First, if you add a mobile phone to confirm your account login, you must also be cautious about your mobile’s whereabouts. If your mobile is stolen, it may be possible for someone to use that information to gain access to your account.

The second concern is the security question: Though security questions are a good thing and can help to prevent others from gaining access to your account, you must be careful to choose an answer that no one else knows. For example, if the question is “what is the last name of your first grade teacher?” you would be safer giving a fake answer that only you know. If you give the genuine answer, any of your first grade classmates could potentially gain access. And never give an answer that is public information.

Have tips to add? Leave a comment.

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