Tag archives for Internet

Komen Backs Down on Planned Parenthood.

From the New York Times:

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation reversed its decision to cut funds for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood affiliates and apologized, saying the move had cast doubt on its “commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.”

The announcement came after an avalanche of criticism online from people voicing their dismay on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr about the move. The decision led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Planned Parenthood this week, including a $250,000 donation that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Thursday.

It’s not surprising to me that the Komen foundation made some fantastically bad decisions about supporting Planned Parenthood, or that they reversed them after a massive public outcry. What I find interesting is what this says about power and PR in the 21st century. Planned Parenthood has been a continual partisan whipping boy because of their firm stance that a woman has a right to choose, even though abortions are a tiny part of what they do. Komen has been very agressive in promoting their brand-Pink things and sole use of “The Cure”-even if only 20% of their money goes to cancer research.

It’s not easy to distinguish clear trends here, but it seems like the people can tell the difference between organizations that are mostly cattle and mostly hat, to mangle an old Texas-saying (everybody else does it, so why not me?). PR doesn’t count for as much in this media saturated environment, when the loudest and most consistent voices are actually your enemies. But clever organizations can take bad press and move with it, sticking to their guns and winning out in the end. The internet hates hypocrisy and loves an underdog.

I’ve longed believed that only when rhetoric matches reality can people make consistently good decisions. Hopefully, this is a step towards a world with more truth and less ‘truthiness’.

Mayor Bloomberg Will Learn How To Write Code In 2012

We all make New Year’s Resolutions, but Mayor Bloomberg is going beyond the standard promise to eat better and exercise more. As reported by TPM.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been increasingly vocal about his love for all things tech over the past few years, but now he’s taking it a whole new level. On Thursday, Bloomberg (the real one) tweeted that his new year’s resolution was to learn how to write code using the handy, free, game-like online courses offered by New York’s own Codecademy.

“My New Year’s resolution is to learn to code with Codecademy in 2012! Join me. http://codeyear.com/ #codeyear,” Bloomberg tweeted, instantly moving the hashtag #Codeyear into the top trending terms on Twitter in the New York City area.

I think this is a fascinating project. Computers have moved from big complex machines to a ubiquitous part of our environment. Basic computer skills, like installing programs, using anti-virus software, and setting up a wireless network, are the oil change and handy-man repairs of the 21st century. But going beyond user-friendly interfaces and delving into code, language, syntax, and math means developing whole new ways of thinking. Politicians are frequently derided for having no practical skills-there are only a handful of scientists in Congress, compared to a horde of engineers-,but getting involved with technology is a important part of understanding and becoming comfortable with technology.

Governments today clearly fear the potential of the internet to create chaos more than they value it’s ability to foster creativity. In the US, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act remains a crude attempt to force 19th century standards of intellectual property onto 21st century technology, while privacy protections for emails don’t extend to anything stored on the Cloud (sorry gmail). France can cut a person’s internet access after 3 attempts at privacy, while the UN argues that Internet access should be a basic human right. And this doesn’t even scratch the kind of censorship and surveillance that authoritarian nations like China and Iran are involved in. The whole legal environment is adding up to what Cory Doctorow calls “A war on general purpose computing.”

I’m not an uncritical internet evangelist, but free systems are better than closed systems. Compare all the innovation, growth, and energy around the American ARPAnet with the close (and now-defunct) French Minitel. Hopefully, more computer savvy politicians will also be more computer friendly politicians.

Technologies of Unrest

Anybody who’s paying attention will note that these are unsettled times, from the Arab spring, to youth demonstrations in Spain, Israel, and now Occupy Wallstreet. Via Kevin Kelly who cites the New York Times:

Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge.

Now, youth protests movements and this kind of radically egalitarian anti-capitalism aren’t exactly new.  These themes can be traced back through the 60s counter-culture, early 20th century Anarchists like Kropotkin and Emma Goldman, the French Revolution, a bunch of 16th century Christian heresies that were bloodily crushed and on and on.

What’s interesting is that the protesters are turning to explicitly technological metaphors for how their movement operates. These are the first generation of digital natives, and they don’t much like how the “real world” works.  But instead of retreating to their bedrooms and laptops, they’re colonizing  physical reality with internet interactions.

((Not that the internet is necessarily good: maybe it’s turning us into selfish assholes.))

China’s Censors Tackle And Trip Over The Internet

Since late March, when Google moved its search operations out of mainland China to Hong Kong, each response to a Chinese citizen’s search request has been met at the border by government computers, programmed to censor any forbidden information Google might turn up.  “Carrot” — in Mandarin, huluobo — may seem innocuous enough. But it contains the same Chinese character as the surname of President Hu Jintao. And the computers, long programmed to intercept Chinese-language searches on the nation’s leaders, substitute an error message for the search result before it can sneak onto a mainland computer. 

This is China’s censorship machine, part George Orwell, part Rube Goldberg: an information sieve of staggering breadth and fineness, yet full of holes; run by banks of advanced computers, but also by thousands of Communist Party drudges; highly sophisticated in some ways, remarkably crude in others.

The one constant is its growing importance. Censorship used to be the sleepy province of the Communist Party’s central propaganda department, whose main task was to tell editors what and what not to print or broadcast. In the new networked China, censorship is a major growth industry, overseen — and fought over — by no fewer than 14 government ministries.