Nine members of the Honorable Sacred Knights, an Indiana chapter of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Dayton, Ohio. Ford Fischer was on the ground to talk to the various groups that attended to protest the group.
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2 weeks ago
According to the Chinese government, thirty years ago today, nothing happened in Tiananmen Square. But everywhere else, today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the deadly suppression of protests against the authoritarian policies of the Chinese Communist Government. In China, the event is known as the “June Fourth Incident,” though it has been effectively scrubbed from the internet in Mainland China. But for this anniversary, a controversial anonymous political cartoonist in China finally showed his face. This is just one of many dissidents, some of whom are taking risky measures to get around China’s Great Firewall to avoid censorship, despite some US companies helping the Chinese government.
If you’re unfamiliar, weeks of peaceful protests broke out after the death of a Communist leader who was pro-reform during a time of rapid social and economic change in the post-Mao country. Inflation and corruption were rampant, and college students demanded change. Despite the disorganization of the movement, the calls for more democracy, free speech, free press, and government accountability united about a million people in Tiananmen Square at the height of the protests. China’s leader at the time and Communist Party elders deemed the protests as a political threat and the State Council declared Martial law, sending three hundred thousand troops to Beijing. Early in the morning on June fourth, the troops advanced, killing both demonstrators and bystanders, many in their twenties and some younger, shocking the world. Although the official number of deaths is disputed, numbers are estimated to range from several hundred to thousands, with thousands more wounded. The international community and human rights organizations condemned the massacre but the Chinese government continued with the arrests of protesters and supporters of the movement. They suppressed more protests around China and expelled foreign journalists in order to control the coverage of the events. Officials who were believed to be sympathetic to the movement were demoted or purged, while police and security forces were strengthened. Progress within the government to promote more liberalized policies was halted, and the movement to end authoritarianism in China instead strengthened it.
The infamous Great Firewall of China is a combination of legislative actions that regulate internet access domestically. It’s actually called the “Golden Shield Project” by the Bureau of Public Information and Network Security Supervision. It falls under the “one country, two systems” principle, which means China’s special administrative regions like Hong Kong and Macau are not affected, but the internet use in those regions are still closely monitored. The firewall blocks a number of foreign sites, including Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter. As a result, access to foreign information sources, internet tools, and mobile apps are limited, and companies are required to adhere to China’s strict internet regulations. China spends about one hundred eighty billion dollars a year on “domestic security.” This includes surveillance, police, and censorship tools. In 2014, a new government body called the Cyberspace Administration of China was established to be directly under President Xi Jinping’s control. This body exercises its control over the internet as a tool for surveillance and suppression. China’s tech giants used to rely on a combination of simple blacklists of banned words and teams of manual reviewers. They’re still in use, but big Chinese tech companies now have more powerful automation to help identify what to block. Tiananmen-related online content is blocked year-round in China, and for decades textbooks and state media have ignored and re-characterized the event to what’s now referred to as “the June fourth incident.” Each year’s anniversary shows signs that Chinese tech companies and the government are more meticulously policing the web. China’s popular search engine Baidu and social media platform WeChat block Tiananmen-related posts and webpages to comply with internet rules. Researchers from the University of Toronto reverse-engineered WeChat, revealing the code in a section of the app that filters images and detects banned images even if they’ve been edited. If a user tries to send the famous photo of “Tank Man” from the protests, the message may never actually reach its recipients. Since 2017, China has increased its crackdown on VPN providers and users, sending many to prison. Apple was forced to remove hundreds of VPN apps from their app store, but still, the number of citizens using VPNs is increasing.
According to Bloomberg, “in the first quarter of 2019, 35% of Chinese web users utilized a VPN, up from 31% two years ago, according to market research firm GlobalWebIndex. That compares with 60% of web users in Indonesia, the highest share of VPN users globally, and 22% in the US. More than half of Chinese VPN users do so for routine activities such as accessing better music and TV shows; 41% of them use VPNs to access social networks or blocked news sites.”
More and more Chinese citizens are breaking through the firewall to fight the censorship and communicate with other like-minded digital dissidents. Using open-source coding platforms like Github, and encrypted messaging services like Telegram and Signal, some are able to stay ahead of the Great Firewall, which continues to grow taller and wider. Some are now operating platforms that re-publish blocked social media posts, browsers that allow access to blocked sites, and blockchain based messaging that prevent controversial posts from being removed. Groups of activists are even teaching members of the persecuted Uighur Muslim-minority how to use encrypted messaging to speak with human rights groups.
US companies operating within China, like Apple and Microsoft, are helping the government censor information. The content deemed “sensitive” by the government is kept off Bing search results and LinkedIn. Other than removing hundreds of VPN apps, Apple curates its app store differently than anywhere else in the world to comply with the firewall. Human rights groups are accusing the companies of helping the government suppress rights. Lawmakers in the US and Europe have also criticized US companies for playing along with the censorship. In April, it was reported that Apple removed songs that mention political topics from Apple Music, including a song by Hong Kong pop star Jacky Chung that referenced the Tiananmen Square protests. Apple declined to comment on the reports of the music’s removal, prompting lawmakers to call the compliance disgraceful.
As we’ve reported before, Google was testing a search engine known as “Dragonfly” that would comply with the strict censorship rules of the Chinese government. The project caused an uproar within the company, with many protesting and petitioning for its development to end. Google actually used to operate within China until 2010, then stopped over concerns that the government was increasing its censorship of online speech too much.
One of the most prominent Chinese-born political cartoonists has been hiding behind anonymity for years to protect himself against repercussions from the government. Today, he revealed his identity. Badiucao is a thirty-three-year-old artist now living in Australia who circulates his work online through social media. He has been compared to Banksy because of the political commentary in his art that satirize Beijing’s leaders. Despite threats from the Chinese government, he stepped out of the shadows to show his face.
In the past, Badiucao would cover his face when he had to appear in public, or sometimes cross-dress to conceal his identity. Despite taking these measures, Chinese authorities figured out his identity and he was forced to cancel an exhibition in Hong Kong over threats to his loved ones. Badiucao believes his identity was realized through digital surveillance while preparing the exhibition in Hong Kong.
According to Reuters, Badiucao said, “I’m facing this major choice: to be silent forever, or to fight back, to confront, face to face, this situation. By stepping out on the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre I don’t think there’s any better time for me to do that.”
The canceled art exhibition in Hong Kong was called “Gongle,” stylized to parody Google, but based on a phrase that translates to “singing for Communism.” The show included drawings celebrating a series of street protests known as the “Umbrella Movement” against China’s interference in Hong Kong’s electoral system in 2014. It featured an image portraying Xi Jinping as Winnie the Pooh in a meme-reference mocking the leader’s appearance. The meme is blocked in China. He also made pictures of Google CEO Sundar Pichai wearing a “Make Wall Great Again” hat, referencing the Great Firewall and the Dragonfly search engine.
Badiucao seeks to reveal the truth about June fourth through art, and said, “In order to pass down memory, it’s always about the next generation, how to engage them, how to awaken them from this kind of political indifference. The physical body can be crushed or damaged, but the spirit lives for much longer. I hope within my art and within my action [there] will be a way to pass on the spirit of ‘89.”
It’s been thirty years since the protests against the authoritarian policies of the Chinese government, the surveillance and censorship has gotten worse, and people are still intimidated and jailed for simple expressions of dissent. It’s a stark reminder that even though we certainly don’t have it bad here in the US, we still need to closely monitor the actions of our governments and tech companies to ensure our freedom of expression does not become compromised. We will continue to update you with news on topics like this, so be sure to stay tuned for more videos every Monday through Thursday. But soon, we’ll have videos every day. You can help make this possible by supporting our work and sharing our videos.
Dissident Chinese cartoonist shows his face on Tiananmen anniversary
digital dissidents fighting chinese censorship machine
US companies help censor internet in china
3 weeks ago
Regulations are on the horizon for social media platforms and other tech giants. Even though we celebrate the convenience and connectivity they’ve brought into our worlds, we also lament the scandals of data privacy and grand-scale manipulation they’ve had on our public discourse and democratic processes. One government after another has assembled committees and held hearings to figure out ways to address and fix these problems only to realize the lack of legal framework currently in place and the sweeping legislative changes that might be required. Today marked the end of a three-day session of the international grand committee on big data, privacy, and democracy, which met in Ottawa to outline the best practices to protect citizens’ data privacy rights from big tech companies.
The committee in Canada heard from experts on how governments can prevent social media companies from unauthorized use of personal information, spreading fake news, sowing division, and manipulating elections. Committee members invited representatives from Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Mozilla, Amazon, and Facebook. The meeting was hosted by the Canadian House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy, and ethics. The representatives the committee wanted from Facebook, however, caused a bit of a stir. Yesterday, Canadian lawmakers voted to issue Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg open-ended summons to appear before parliament the next time they enter Canada. If the two fail to honor the summons, lawmakers will hold another vote on a motion to hold them in contempt of court. If that motion is approved, it could result in jail time for the two executives. The likelihood of that happening, however, is slim. Previously, they have declined to appear before the UK parliament and other government committees around the world.
According to the Hill, Bob Zimmer, the chairman of the Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics said, “It’s only fitting that there’s an ongoing summons, so as soon as they step foot into our country they will be served and expected to [sit in front of] our committee.”
CBC reported Zimmer also said, “I don’t think it would send a good message internationally about, you know, blowing off an entire country of 36 million people. The bottom line is that they show up and answer our questions, so my hope is that still happens.”
Committee members in Canada were quick to point out the contradiction in Zuckerberg’s attitude from an op-ed he wrote in March where he said he was looking forward to discussing these issues with lawmakers around the world. The committee itself is made up of lawmakers from more than ten countries, collectively representing about 450 million people. Facebook sent the head of public policy in Canada, Kevin Chan, and the director of public policy, Neil Potts, to attend the hearing in their place. The committee was not pleased with the alternatives because their understanding of the company’s structure is that any change is made through Zuckerberg or Sandberg. The committee unleashed a barrage of detailed criticism over Facebook’s business practices on Chan and Potts, who were separated by two empty chairs designated for the two executives.
CBC reported that Neil Potts attempted to reassure the committee that Facebook is taking the work of the members of parliament seriously, saying: “There’s been this running theme that Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg are not here because they are eschewing their duty. They have mandated and authorized Mr. Chan and me to appear for this committee to work with you all.”
Zimmer cut off Potts before he finished, to stress that when the committee asks two specific individuals to come, that’s exactly what they expect. “It shows a little bit of disdain from Mark Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg to simply choose not to come and it just shows a lack of understanding of what we do as legislators. To use you two individuals in their stead simply is not acceptable.”
Potts responded that he was not familiar with the procedures of the Canadian Parliament and what requires an appearance. Although Twitter and Google also received formal requests from Canadian Parliament earlier this month, the invitations were not necessarily directed to their top executives. Some members of parliament wondered why Zuckerberg chose to send officials in his place to deal with the lawmakers’ questions, yet will meet with world leaders elsewhere behind closed doors. The questions highlighted their skepticism over Facebook’s promise to operate more transparently than before.
In a statement on Monday, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Ultimately this is a decision for Parliament, we’re not in a position to speculate. We share the Committee’s desire to keep people safe and to hold companies like ours accountable. Right now we’re focused on engaging in meaningful dialogue with the committee… We look forward to answering their questions and remain committed to working with world leaders, governments, and industry experts to address these complex issues.”
The next day, a former Facebook advisor told lawmakers to call their bluff and shut down Facebook or other social media sites until they can be properly regulated.
According to CBC, venture capitalist Roger McNamee told the committee on Tuesday, “if your goals are to protect democracy and personal liberty, you have to be bold. You have to force a radical transformation of the business model of internet platforms.” “At the end of the day, though, the most effective path to reform would be to shut down the platforms at least temporarily. Any country can go first. The platforms have left you no choice. The time has come to call their bluff.”
McNamee pointed to the action Sri Lanka took to turn off access to social media after the Easter Sunday attacks on hundreds of people in churches and hotels. The government said at the time the actions were taken to stop the spread of fake news reports online. McNamee said, “The people at Google and Facebook are not evil. They are the products of an American business culture with few rules, where misbehavior seldom results in punishment. Smart people take what they can get and tell themselves they earned it. They feel entitled. Consequences are someone else’s problem.”
He also pointed out that companies with responsible business models will emerge to fill the gap that facebook leaves. McNamee was an early investor at Facebook but now is suggesting countries ought to end these social media platforms’ abilities to surveillance their users.
British MP Jo Stevens was extremely displeased, as this was a repeat of the Zuckerberg no-show in front of the UK Parliament in London. “He wouldn’t come to answer our questions in London at our Parliament, so we have come across the Atlantic to make it easier for him. And we can only conclude that he’s frightened of scrutiny,” Stevens said. “And for the avoidance of doubt, I am sick to death of sitting through hours of platitudes from Facebook and avoidance tactics about answering questions. I want the boss here to take responsibility.”
Kevin Chan, Canada’s Facebook Head of Public Policy said the company respects the work of the legislators and would work to comply with whatever regulations they pass, saying: “We would welcome basic standards that lawmakers can impose on the platform about what should go up and what should come down. And if lawmakers, in their wisdom, want to draw the line somewhere north or south of censorship, we would be, we would obviously [be] obliged [to follow] local law.”
In another statement after the meeting on Tuesday, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We are grateful to the Committee for the opportunity to answer their questions today and remain committed to working with world leaders, governments, and industry experts to address these complex issues. As we emphasized, we share the Committee’s desire to keep people safe and to hold companies like ours accountable.”
Both Google and Microsoft announced they support an initiative to protect the integrity of the Canadian election this fall, which includes removing fake content and fake accounts. As of tuesday morning, Twitter had not signed onto the initiative. Facebook agreed as well, committing to remove bots and fake accounts. The measures are outlined in a non-binding declaration on electoral integrity. There is a growing concern among government officials that bad actors will try to interfere with the elections.
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said Microsoft and facebook are set to intensify their efforts to combat disinformation and cybersecurity incidents, and have to explain their rules about accepting political advertising. She urged other platforms to follow suit in the coming days, referring to Twitter and Google.
According to Reuters, Gould said, “The Wild West online era cannot continue, inaction is not an option. Disinformation must not stand.” She added, “I think they have an absolute interest to be good actors in the Canadian democratic space, and if that is not the case then we will be coming back with stronger regulatory reforms.”
The non-binding aspect of the agreement raises questions on how they can ensure the compliance of the companies. Gould said that the public, the media, and political parties would hold these giants accountable in the short term. Getting this information out to the public is the first step in holding these platforms and our governments accountable, which is why we plan to continue our coverage on tech giants and their impending regulation.