The Hungarian internet tax protests: freedom, modernity and the political power of technology

Elisabetta Ferrari, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

It is night time and the sky over central Hong Kong is dark. Thousands of people are gathering in one of Hong Kong’s central areas, in front of the headquarters of the Hong Kong Government. They are holding their cell phones towards the dark sky, illuminating the night with their screen lights. It is September 2014 and protesters are occupying this central square in opposition to the Chinese government’s proposed reforms to Hong Kong’s political system. These images were immediately picked up and circulated by both mainstream media and social network sites. CNN described the image, saying: “Photographed from above, the glowing screens of mobile phones held aloft by the sea of protesters have created an enduring image of the demonstrators’ solidarity” (Hume & Park, 2014). Quartzechoed this sentiment: “It was an image that fascinated the world—a sea of lights coming from thousands of Hong Kong protesters waving their lit up mobile phones in the darkness” (Lih, 2014). The iconic image of protesters raising their phones to the sky survived the demise of the Umbrella Revolution and travelled far away.

When thousands of people, led by student activists, started mobilizing in Hong Kong, footage and images from these pro-democracy protests spread across the world in mainstream media and online.  It seemed to many as though the revolts, uprisings, and occupations that shook the Middle East, Europe and United States in 2010-2011 were about to make a forceful come-back – and in such an unlikely place as Hong Kong. The police’s decision to use tear gas on the occupation backfired, as powerful images – of protesters trying to protect themselves with umbrellas (Lee, 2015) –, circulated online. These images gave the movement its name: the Umbrella Movement. And yet, as iconic as the umbrellas became, it was another image – of phones lifted to the sky – that would be taken up by other social movements in very different countries in the following years.

This image first reappeared in Hungary, a month after the Hong Kong protests, when thousands of people mobilized to publicly protest a tax on internet consumption that was proposed by the conservative government. Lit phones were raised in the first demonstration that drew around 10,000 people to the center of Budapest, Hungary’s capital. However, it was the second demonstration in which protesters staged the most impactful version of the iconic image: this photograph captured 100,000 people crossing the Danube River on the massive Elizabeth Bridge in an aerial shot, as they lifted their illuminated phones towards the night. These protests and images of thousands made it clear to the world that there was great public support for the movement, and eventually the government withdrew the tax proposal. To read the full post, click here.

Periodismo de Barrio estrena especial sobre Internet en Cuba

Periodismo de Barrio has edited a collection of 13 articles on the Cuban Internet in collaboration with the Internet Policy Observatory at the University of Pennsylvania. The articles cover the history of the Cuban Internet, the legal framework, services, communities, and projects. Here are thumbnail summaries of each article:

¿Puede Estados Unidos conectar a Internet a los cubanos? – Elaine Díaz Rodríguez
A critical look at US efforts to enhance Cuban connectivity, from the Clinton administration through the recent formation of the Cuban Internet Task Force by Trump
La ruta de Internet en Cuba – Anidelys Rodríguez Brito
A survey of Cuban networking from the pre-Internet days through today’s 3G, home DSL, and public access points
Internet en Cuba: ¿limitada por la política o la economía? – Eloy Viera Cañive
A survey of the political and economic factors that curb Cuban access and content
¿Quién eres, ETECSA? – Mabel Olalde Azpiri
A history of ETECSA and its role in serving Infomed and other networks as well as the general public
Variaciones sobre la wifi – Lianet Fleites
A portrait of WiFi hotspot users and uses
Te quiero, mi sangre – Geisy Guia Delis
People connecting with expatriate family members
Nauta Hogar: nueva herramienta para emprendedores cubanos – Julio Batista Rodríguez
Nauta Hogar: a new tool for Cuban entrepreneurs
El color verde en la palabra Sígueme – Jesús Jank Curbelo
A look at Sígueme, the SNET “Facebook” application
Se venden héroes a diez pesos – Carlos Melián
Kids playing multiplayer online games
Tecnología y cambio social en Cuba: en busca de hipervínculos – Mónica Baró Sánchez
An interview of Yohana Lezcano Lavandera, who advocates computer literacy education
El Callejón de los Milagros – Rogelio Serrano
An interview with professor and researcher Juan Antonio García Borrero about his project The Alley of the Mircales
Ocho aplicaciones contra la desconexión – Mónica Baró Sánchez
Descriptions of eight mobile phone apps that can be used offline
¿Qué podría hacer el gobierno cubano en el escenario virtual? – Jessica Domínguez Delgado
Potential e-government applications in Cuba

The Myth of a Transnational Anti-Surveillance Community

Till Waescher

Even though they were conceptualized and steered by U.S. based organizations, the grassroots campaigns following the Snowden leaks featured an international roster of participants who to varying degrees contributed to the strategy and framings. A great deal of these US-based activists sought out privacy activists from the so called ‘Global South’ to share their experiences with surveillance apparatuses in authoritarian contexts. In turn, groups from Latin America, the Maghreb region, or East Africa saw great benefits in joining U.S.-led, international privacy campaigns.

The importance, especially for groups from those regions to take part in such campaigns should not be understated. For them presenting their case in the transnational arena is an indispensable tool to evoke reactions from authoritarian governments who are generally not responsive to domestic civil society claims. In turn, inviting activists from non-western countries to talk about privacy breaches in their national contexts were used as warning signs against unchecked surveillance in Europe and the U.S. However, these occasional encounters between activists from around the world have not led to the formation of a organized transnational privacy movement.

From the outset, the international privacy activist scene had all the prerequisites for evolving into a transnational movement. For example, many privacy activists see themselves as global citizens and had been heavily inspired by the international protest waves that rocked the world following the global political and financial crises in the late 2000s. They frequently characterized themselves as cosmopolitans caring about the privacy rights of all people not just those from their home country. As an activist described it, the privacy community was a “fairly international bunch of people and so it is natural for them to extend their concerns that way.” But the community’s  support for international campaigns was less about their efficacy than about demonstrating transnational solidarity to the outside world. Their symbolic power seemed to transcend their ability to generate tangible legal results. As two activists from Eastern Europe put it, “the idea is that we are all across the globe sharing the same problems.” To read the full post, click here.

How Facebook Can Prove It Doesn’t Discriminate Against Conservatives

By , and 

During last week’s congressional hearings investigating the accessing of data from (at least) 87 million Facebook users by Cambridge Analytica, several Republican lawmakers worried that companies like Facebook might have a “liberal bias” in the way it enforces its rules and moderates content posted by users. In 10 separate instances, Republicans brought up cases in which content posted by conservative-leaning Facebook users had been removed in error by the company. The most frequently cited case was the alleged censorship of conservative video bloggers Diamond and Silk. They have asserted since September that Facebook has purposely limited the reach of their brand page, and on April 5, they received a message from Facebook’s policy team saying the company determined their content was “unsafe to the community.”

Zuckerberg and Facebook have said that the “unsafe to the community” message was sent improperly and have apologized. But the deeper claims of censorship were somewhat misleading: Research by ThinkProgresssuggests that video content from across the political spectrum was made less visible after recent changes to Facebook’s algorithms. By ThinkProgress’ analysis, Diamond and Silk apparently suffered less in these changes than comparable liberal-leaning outlets. Representatives from the company told the Washington Post that they had reached out to Diamond and Silk to provide more context to explain the changes.

To read more, please see the full article on Slate here.

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