SURVEY: 85% of American adults who use social media say people are “mostly kind” on the sites

A new survey report on “the tone of life on social networking sites” from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 85% of American adults who use social media say people are “mostly kind” on those sites:

These attitudes will naturally be of great interest to people who work in practices that span open government to education, in terms of practitioners considering the use of social media for public engagement, civic participation, and deliberative democracy, along with grist for digital ethnographers of both the amateur and professional variety.

More stats, excerpted from the report:

“A nationally representative phone survey of American adults finds that:

*85% of SNS-using adults say that their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind, compared with 5% who say people they observe on the sites are mostly unkind and another 5% who say their answer depends on the situation.

*68% of SNS users said they had an experience that made them feel good about themselves.

*61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person. (Many said they had both experiences.)

*39% of SNS-using adults say they frequently see acts of generosity by other SNS users and another 36% say they sometimes see others behaving generously and helpfully. By comparison, 18% of SNS-using adults say they see helpful behavior “only once in a while” and 5% say they never see generosity exhibited by others on social networking sites.”

Celebrating science with the Geek in Chief at the White House Science Fair

Today in Washington, President Obama hosted the second annual White House Science Fair. Video of his comments is embedded below, along with a storify of exhibits and students from the day.

“The young people I met today, the young people behind me — you guys inspire me. It’s young people like you that make me so confident that America’s best days are still to come. When you work and study and excel at what you’re doing in math and science, when you compete in something like this, you’re not just trying to win a prize today. You’re getting America in shape to win the future. You’re making sure we have the best, smartest, most skilled workers in the world, so that the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root right here. You’re making sure we’ll always be home to the most creative entrepreneurs, the most advanced science labs and universities. You’re making sure America will win the race to the future.

So as an American, I’m proud of you. As your President, I think we need to make sure your success stories are happening all across our country.

And that’s why when I took office, I called for an all-hands-on-deck approach to science, math, technology and engineering. Let’s train more teachers. Let’s get more kids studying these subjects. Let’s make sure these fields get the respect and attention that they deserve.

Now, in a lot of ways, today is a celebration of the new. But the belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation — that’s an idea as old as America itself. I mean, we’re a nation of tinkerers and dreamers and believers in a better tomorrow. You think about our Founding Fathers — they were all out there doing experiments — and folks like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, they were constantly curious about the world around them and trying to figure out how can we help shape that environment so that people’s lives are better.

It’s in our DNA. We know that innovation has helped each generation pass down that basic American promise, which is no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you can make it if you try. So there’s nothing more important than keeping that promise alive for the next generation. There’s no priority I have that’s higher than President — as President than this.

And I can’t think of a better way to spend a morning than with the young people who are here doing their part and creating some unbelievable stuff in the process. So I’m proud of you. I want you to keep up your good work.-President Barack Obama

 

 

Later in the day, Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” Neil Tyson Degrasse and Tom Kalil participated in a live Twitter chat:

Why don’t Google and Facebook use ChillingEffects to mitigate censorship like Twitter?

At the request of the government of India, Google India and Facebook have removed content from Blogger and the world’s largest social network after a court order. As Alex Kirkpatrick reported at Mashable, “Indian prosecutors are suing a host of Internet companies on behalf of a Muslim religious leader who has accused them of hosting content that insults Islam.”

If Google and Facebook used Chilling Effects like Twitter, we’d know what content they had censored in India For context, consider Twitter’s stance on censorship and Internet freedom.

While Google’s Transparency Report for India is laudable and impressively visualized, it doesn’t show what content was removed.

As far as I know, Facebook neither posts data of content takedown requests by region nor the content itself. If you know of such data or reports, please let me know in the comments

As CNN and Fox News fail to put #Syria on TV, Twitter and the Internet spread the news

I’m seeing upset from Chris Sacca and others on Twitter about a disconnect between what’s on CNN now and the violence that many outlets are reporting in Syria.

It feels like 2009 the #IranElection all over again, when the world finally awoke to how the real-time Web was disrupting mainstream media by driving conversations and coverage of an historic event that the producers of cable news had failed to cover.

In the context of that disconnect, I couldn’t help but think back when I met Ann Curry at the first #140Conf and watched her respond to the volcanic surge of upset in the audience about the issue. What’s happening in Syria now deserves that coverage, with reports in the New York Times that hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, have been killed in Homs. Thankfully, in 2012 we don’t have to depend upon CNN to cover a debate in the United Nations. We can share the news that matters on our own, including a link to a livestream of the debate in the UN.

Update: At 2:01 ET, CNN did put the news from Syria and the UN on the big screen. Fox News covered today’s election results from Nevada. And at 6, Fox News led with the news of “deadly chaos” in Syria.

The White House released a statement from President Barack Obama strongly condemning the crackdown in Syria and calling on the U.N. Security Council to “stand against” the “relentless brutality” of the regime. Russia and China subsequently blocked action. Following is the text of the statement released by the White House.

Thirty years after his father massacred tens of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women, and children in Hama, Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated a similar disdain for human life and dignity. Yesterday the Syrian government murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence, and Syrian forces continue to prevent hundreds of injured civilians from seeking medical help. These brutal killings take place at a time when so many Syrians are also marking a deeply meaningful day for their faith. I strongly condemn the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs and I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones. Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately.

The Syrian people demonstrated in large numbers across Syria yesterday to participate in peaceful protests commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre. They labeled the protests, “We are Sorry, Hama – Forgive Us.” We owe it to the victims of Hama and Homs to learn one lesson: that cruelty must be confronted for the sake of justice and human dignity. Every government has the responsibility to protect its citizens, and any government that brutalizes and massacres its people does not deserve to govern. The Syrian regime’s policy of maintaining power by terrorizing its people only indicates its inherent weakness and inevitable collapse. Assad has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.

The international community must work to protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality. Earlier this week, our Arab partners called on UN Security Council members to take action to support a political solution to the crisis in Syria and stop Assad’s “killing machine.” The Council now has an opportunity to stand against the Assad regime’s relentless brutality and to demonstrate that it is a credible advocate for the universal rights that are written into the UN Charter.

We must work with the Syrian people toward building a brighter future for Syria. A Syria without Assad could be a Syria in which all Syrians are subject to the rule of law and where minorities are able to exercise their legitimate rights and uphold their identities and traditions while acting as fully enfranchised citizens in a unified republic. The United States and our international partners support the Syrian people in achieving their aspirations and will continue to assist the Syrian people toward that goal. We will help because we stand for principles that include universal rights for all people and just political and economic reform. The suffering citizens of Syria must know: we are with you, and the Assad regime must come to an end.

It’s not clear to me what will happen — or should happen — in the stricken country next, although this Foreign Affairs analysis of what it will take to intervene in Syria offered some clarity.

To be fair, CNN is covering what’s happening online, with reports from the front lines, links to the UN debate and stories on the veto by Russia and China. Anderson Cooper talked to a Syrian activist about 200 Syrian killed. CNN reported that the UN Security Council was to meet yesterday. And 5 of the last @CNN tweets about been about Syria.

Similarly, Fox News has reports of unrest in Syria at the top of FoxNews.com, with 2 of the last 10 @FoxNews tweets covering the story.

Syria just isn’t on television right now.

In 2012, we the people can now choose to focus attention upon news that matters around the world if we choose, regardless of the choices of producers in the control rooms of television stations. This is precisely the kind of conscious consumption that I believe Clay Johnson describes in his excellent new book, “The Information Diet.”

I hope that, as the hype grows in the lead up to tomorrow’s Super Bowl, we use our collective influence to raise awareness by sharing “what’s happening.”

UPDATE: As several people quickly pointed out to me, Al Jazeera English’s strong coverage of the Middle East shouldn’t be forgotten nor go uncited. Unfortunately, most American citizens do not have the option of tuning in AJ English, although people with broadband Internet access can stream it to their computers or iPads, via their app, as I did during the height of the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir. Here’s their report on the media blackout in Syria:

UPDATE: Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa highlighted (via Twitter, appropriately), Reuters has been reporting on Syria this week as well. While Reuters does not have a cable news network quite yet, they are moving strongly into online video and social news, with the introduction of liveblogged the UN vote and shared a link to this video reporting on

UPDATE: Below is video of the statement of U.S. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to the Security Council. And yes, the video is hosted on CNN.com, though I have not seen it broadcast on either CNN or Fox News today.

UPDATE: Mark Follman, a senior editor for Mother Jones, shared this “explainer” (again, via Twitter) of what’s happening in Syria. The post includes a lot of links to learn more.

Open Government News on Gov 2.0 TV: The Year in Review, SOPA and POTUS on Google+

On Thursday, I joined Edmonton-based social media consultant and digital strategist Walter Schwabe on “Gov 2.0 TV” to talk about what’s new in open government since our last interview.

Over the course of the show, we talked about the following stories:

On Twitter, censorship and Internet freedom

I’m watching a lot of reactions roll across the social Web to the news that Twitter will now be able to censor tweets, if required by law, on a country-by-country basis.

 

“In the face of a valid and applicable legal order,” Twitter spokeswoman Jodi Olson told techPresident’s Nick Judd via an email, “the choice facing services is between global removal of content with no notice to the user, or a transparent, targeted approach where the content is removed only in the country in question.” Twitter is opting for what the New York Times has dubbed a “micro-censorship policy,” where it will withhold certain content (aka, tweets) from Twitter users within a country.

Twitter’s help page on “country withheld content” offers more context and explanation for users than that its blog:

Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.

We have found that transparency is vital to freedom of expression. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content we will promptly notify affected users, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, and clearly indicate to viewers when content has been withheld. We have also expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to include the publication of requests to withhold content in addition to the DMCA notifications that we already transmit.

As is often the case, Danny Sullivan has produced the more comprehensive, detailed analysis of what the news shared on Twitter’s blog today means, backed up by solid reporting. He says that “there’s no need to hit the panic button.” Based upon what I’m reading, I agree, albeit with caveats that we’ll need to see how this is implemented.

“The restrictions will be based on the IP address of the user,” writes Sullivan. As this isn’t perfect, Twitter will allow people to override this, if they believe they’re being inaccurately targeted.” As Sullivan explains, Twitter has been complying with DMCA requests for some time. This move actually means we will probably learn more about what’s been happening. Here’s the meat of his post:

“What’s new is that eventually, Twitter may expand to having staff based in other countries. That makes the company more liable to legal actions in those countries, so it needs a way to comply with those legal demands. The new “Country Withheld Content” change gives it a framework to do so.

That, of course, leads to another concern. What if some country undergoing a revolution declares that tweeting about protests is illegal? Would Twitter suddenly start censoring tweets that many within those countries might depend on?

Twitter tells me that this is more a hypothetical concern than a real one that it expects to face. Typically when this happens, Twitter says, it doesn’t get demands to to block particular accounts or tweets. Instead, authorities in the affected countries either ignore Twitter (good for freedom of expression) or block it entirely (bad, but also out of Twitter’s control).”

The crux of the matter, to me, is that Twitter is a venture-backed private company with investors that want to see growth and profit. It’s not a public utility. Jack has said that he envisions every connected device being able to tweet. That’s not going to come to pass unless they expand into the world’s biggest markets, China and India. To do so, Twitter will have to make similar decisions as Google did when it entered China and censored its results. Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt decided eventually to change how it handled search, redirecting to Hong Kong. This is only a first pass at understanding what’s happened here and why, so other explanations are welcome in the comments, if grounded in fact.

As Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan Zuckerman and others have been explaining for years, what we think of as the new public square online is complicated by the fact that these platforms for free expression are owned and operated by private companies. Rebecca has explored these issues and how we can think of them in context in her new, excellent book, “Consent of the Networked.”

“I know some people saw this and got upset about “censorship!” but looking at the details, it actually looks like Twitter is doing a smart thing here, wrote Mike Masnick, the founder of TechDirt, on Twitter deciding to censor locally than block globally:

You could argue that the proper response would be to stand up to local governments and say, “sorry, we don’t block anything” — and I’d actually have sympathy with that response. But the truth is that if a government is demanding censorship, then Twitter is likely going to have to comply or face complete blocking. The solution that it came up with is somewhat more elegant: it will just block the specific content in the specific location and (importantly) will try to let users know that the content is blocked while also sending as much info as it can to the Chilling Effects website so that people can learn about what’s being censored. This is a lot more transparent and hopefully actually shines more light on efforts to censor Twitter.

While hundreds of millions of people may hope that Twitter’s executive team, including @Jack or @DickC, Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, and YouTube‘s execs, to name key players, will act in the public interest and protect their users, they are obligated to obey the laws of the countries they operate within and their major shareholders.

As I’ve written elsewhere, my sense is that, of all of the major social media players — which in 2012 now include Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Tumblr and MySpace, amongst others — Twitter has been one of the leaders in the technology community for sticking up for its users where it can, particularly with respect to the matter of fighting to make Twitter subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department regarding user data public.

When reached for comment, Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, offering the following statement:

From my view, this isn’t different from how Twitter’s already been handling court-ordered requests, except that it won’t affect users outside of a given country. Given their moves to open an office in the UK (with all of its crazy defamation laws), I can see why they’ve taken this route. It’s unfortunate that they may have to censor any content at all, but I applaud their move to be as transparent as possible about it.

Twitter’s general counsel, Alexander Macgillivray (@amac) deserves all due credit for that decision and others, along with the lucid blog post that explained how SOPA would affect ordinary, non-infringing users.

Both Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of public policy, and MacGillivray indicated on Twitter today that if tweets are “reactively withheld” in a given country, the rest of the world will still be able to see them.

The  Chilling Effects page for Twitter  “is a first step towards that, though we hope to have fewer datapoints,” tweeted MacGillivray.

Let’s hope they uphold that commitment and share raw data about the censorship requests, as +Google itself has done, where possible.

UPDATE: Per Xeni Jardin’s post on Twitter and censorship at BoingBoing, Macgillivray told her “three quick things”:

#1: I can confirm that this has nothing to do with any investor (primary or secondary).

#2: This is not a change in philosophy. #jan25

#3: you’ll see notices about withheld content at: http://www.chillingeffects.org… so you’ll get to figure out whether we’ve “caved” or not with data. This change gives us the ability to keep content up even if we have to withhold it somewhere.

Mathew Ingram also posted a thoughtful analysis of Twitter censoring tweets at GigaOm:

The company says that it will not accede to just any request for removal, regardless of whether it comes from a government, and has made it clear that its commitment to free speech extends to dissidents using Twitter for revolutionary purposes during events such as the Arab Spring in Egypt. But as Twitter becomes more and more of a global phenomenon, those commitments could be put to the test. What happens when someone posts a tweet that makes fun of the founder of Turkey, something that is a crime under Turkish law?

More than anything else, Twitter’s announcement highlights both how integral a part of the global information ecosystem it has become, and how vulnerable that ecosystem can be when a single entity controls such a crucial portion of it. How Twitter handles that challenge will ultimately determine whether it deserves the continued trust of its users.

UPDATE: Jillian C. York wrote more about Twitter’s latest move on her blog:

Let’s be clear: This is censorship. There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law.  Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content.  Google lays out its orders in its Transparency Report.  Other companies are less forthright.  In any case, Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor).  And if they have “boots on the ground”, so to speak, in the country in question?  No choice.

In the event that a company chooses to comply with government requests and censor content, there are a number of mitigating steps the company can take.  The most important, of course, is transparency, something that Twitter has promised.  Google is also transparent in its content removal (Facebook? Not so much).  Twitter’s move to geolocate their censorship is also smart, given the alternative (censoring it worldwide, that is) – particularly since it appears a user can manually change his or her location.

I understand why people are angry, but this does not, in my view, represent a sea change in Twitter’s policies. Twitter has previously taken down content–for DMCA requests, at least–and will no doubt continue to face requests in the future. I believe that the company is doing its best in a tough situation…and I’ll be the first to raise hell if they screw up.”

UPDATE: Writing at the Wall Street Journal’s “Real Time China” blog, Josh Chin looks at Chinese reactions to the news and what it would take to get Twitter unblocked in China. His reporting casts doubt on my speculation above and in a statement I gave to Al Jazeera last night.

Even if Twitter were somehow able to get in Beijing’s good graces, Mr. Bishop says, it would have almost no shot at competing with home-grown “weibo” microblogging products from Sina and Tencent that are already well-established and offer more features. “Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are better products,” he says. “Twitter’s only competitive advantage here is freedom of speech. Once you start censoring, what do you have left to offer?”

Indeed, Mr. Dorsey himself quashed the idea of Twitter being able to break into China in an interview in Hong Kong in October in which he said his company “just can’t compete” in China “and that’s not up to us to change.”

In developing the ability to censor tweets by region, Twitter more likely has different markets in mind. The only countries mentioned by name in the blog post announcing the new policy were France and Germany, both of which, the post notes, ban pro-Nazi content. How to handle that ban is a dilemma that Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all struggled with in Germany.

UPDATE: Nick Judd published an excellent post at techPresident reporting on why some prominent journalists and free expression advocates, including Andy Carvin (see comment below) and York aren’t mad about Twitter’s censorship move:

All of this seems to indicate that Twitter chose this way to proceed in the hopes that it would serve as a compromise between the company’s desire to expand globally and its desire to remain on the same side as the folks at the EFF on issues like user privacy and user rights. This is the same company that, despite getting no money from its users, went to the legal mat for some of them to earn the right to notify them that federal investigators wanted records of their direct messages in conjunction with a Wikileaks investigation. But it’s still a company, and as such, its platform has to adhere to the rule of law in the U.S. and anywhere else it has staff, or, well … Megaupload.

Twitter’s move here is not really pre-emptive. Other Internet giants have already implemented a similar policy. Google, remember, already maps every request for content removal or government request for user data that it can.

And Twitter actually is under pressure from foreign governments — just not the ones you’d expect.

As we say here on the interwebs, read the whole thing.

UPDATE: “Twitter’s policy is actually a model of how this should work,” says “technosociologist” Zeynep Tufecki, who writes that Twitter’s new policy is helpful to free-speech advocates:

In my opinion, with this policy, Twitter is fighting to protect free speech on Twitter as best it possibly can. It also fits with its business model so I am not going to argue they are uniquely angelic, but Twitter does have a good track record. Twitter was the only company which first fought the US government to protect user information in the Wikileaks cas,e and then informed the users when it lost the fight. In fact, Twitter’s transparency is the only reason we even know of this; other companies, it appears, silently caved and complied.

Twitter’s latest policy is purposefully designed to allow Twitter to exist as a platform as broadly as possible while making it as hard as possible for governments to censor content, either tweet by tweet or more, all the while giving free-speech advocates a lot of tools to fight censorship.

“Decentralization is often great but in Internet is not free of questions of jurisdiction and law. As such, this is a good policy,” she tweeted. “It reflects recognition that Net isn’t “virtual”; it’s not a law & govt free zone; Q is how to protect freedoms given reality.”

UPDATE: “The reality, of course, is that these are businesses with corporate interests, not triumphant defenders of free speech — and they each provide the bulk of their services for free, and make money by selling their users’ attention to advertisers,” writes Mathew Ingram on his an excellent post curating of links and analysis regarding this move over at GigaOm considering how much should we trust our information overlords. (And yes, linking to his linking is feeling a bit meta today.)

The standard response when someone criticizes Google’s privacy policy or Twitter’s new tactics or Facebook’s changes is “Don’t use them.” But what is the alternative? Google isn’t just a search engine but a giant email provider and has a host of other services people need to do their jobs. Facebook and Twitter are tools that hundreds of millions of people use daily to connect and share with their friends and family — which is why “open source” alternatives such as Diaspora and Identi.ca have failed to gain much traction.

Dave Winer and other open-network advocates have repeatedly made the point that relying on a single corporation, or even several of them, for access to such important tools of communication is a huge risk. But what choice do we have? We either have to try harder to find more open alternatives, or we have to trust that Google and Twitter and Facebook are looking out for our best interests — and when they don’t, we have to make it clear that they are failing, and hold them to account.

UPDATE: I talked with Al Jazeera English about making sense of Twitter and censorship. Cynthia Wong, Director of the Global Internet Freedom Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, was also quoted in the story.

[Wong] says the question Twitter must ask itself is, is it better to remain available in a country, even if some content is blocked?

Wong says Twitter is in fact being thoughtful in its answer to that question. “They are limiting the impact of the block to only the local jurisdiction, trying to be transparent about which tweets are withheld, and at what government’s request,” Wong said.

Whether Twitter is trying to be thoughtful or not, opposition to the decision around the world was swift and negative, with many Twitter users protesting the decision. Journalists and human rights advocates, understandably, have raised serious concerns about Twitter’s decision. Reporters Without Borders has sent a letter to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey asking him not to co-operate with censors.

We urge you to reverse this decision, which restricts freedom of expression and runs counter to the movements opposed to censorship that have been linked to the Arab Spring, in which Twitter served as a sounding board. By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.

We are very disturbed by this decision, which is nothing other than local level censorship carried out in cooperation with local authorities and in accordance with local legislation, which often violates international free speech standards. Twitter’s position that freedom of expression is interpreted differently from country to country is inacceptable. This fundamental principle is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Twitter has published an update to its post on the decision:

…we believe the new, more granular approach to withheld content is a good thing for freedom of expression, transparency, accountability— and for our users. Besides allowing us to keep Tweets available in more places, it also allows users to see whether we are living up to our freedom of expression ideal.

Q: Do you filter out certain Tweets before they appear on Twitter?
A: No. Our users now send a billion Tweets every four days—filtering is neither desirable nor realistic. With this new feature, we are going to be reactive only: that is, we will withhold specific content only when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request.

As we do today, we will evaluate each request before taking any action. Any content we do withhold in response to such a request is clearly identified to users in that country as being withheld. And we are now able to make that content available to users in the rest of the world.

The reaction from dissidents around the world has been particularly striking, given the potential impact of this decision upon their ability to speak out. As RSF noted, freedom of speech is part of the universal declaration of human rights. For many users or potential users, Twitter’s decision means that, while their speech will be preserved for the rest of the world to see, their fellow citizens may not. While this approach may be nuanced, the company can be fairly criticized for ever deciding to censor tweets at all. In the initial blog post on this decision, Twitter stated that the standards for free expression some countries “differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.”

Individuals and organizations within the broad coalition opposing SOPA due to concerns about freedom of expression online should find common cause with those who now would question Twitter’s decision to “exist” at all in countries whose governments do not respect the universal human rights of their citizens, as opposed to providing them with the means to share “what’s happening” with the rest of humanity.

The “Internet freedom” policies advanced by the U.S. Department of State under the Obama administration would, in theory, support that position as well. This is precisely the “dictator’s dilemma” that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described. There should be a line where preserving principle is more important than opening new markets.

UPDATE: Writing for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin considered what Twitter’s local takedown system would mean fro freedom of expression. She wrote a thoughtful, thorough post, including a note that Twitter has already been taking down content and echoing the opinion of others that the driver for the announcement is Twitter’s expansion to new countries with laws that govern freedom of expression, like Germany, where it will be bound by them. “Twitter is trying to mitigate these problems by only taking down access to content for people coming from IP addresses the country seeking to censor that content,” writes Galperin. “That’s good. For now, the overall effect is less censorship rather than more censorship, since they used to take things down for all users. But people have voiced concerns that ‘if you build it, they will come,’–if you build a tool for state-by-state censorship, states will start to use it. We should remain vigilant against this outcome.”

Galperin also offers specific actions that Twitter users concerned about the company’s actions can take, beyond protesting the move or leaving the platform all together:

Keep Twitter honest. First, pay attention to the notices that Twitter sends and to the archive being created on Chilling Effects. If Twitter starts honoring court orders from India to take down tweets that are offensive to the Hindu gods, or tweets that criticize the king in Thailand, we want to know immediately. Furthermore, transparency projects such as Chilling Effects allow activists to track censorship all over the world, which is the first step to putting pressure on countries to stand up for freedom of expression and put a stop to government censorship.

What else? Circumvent censorship. Twitter has not yet blocked a tweet using this new system, but when it does, that tweet will not simply disappear—there will be a message informing you that content has been blocked due to your geographical location. Fortunately, your geographical location is easy to change on the Internet. You can use a proxy or a Tor exit node located in another country. Read Write Web also suggests that you can circumvent per-country censorship by simply changing the country listed in your profile.

This post has been updated as further information or posts have become available.

4 reasons #40dollars resonated more with citizens on Twitter than #1000days

Yesterday, David Copeland reported at ReadWriteWeb that the GOP tried to replicate the success of the White House’s #40dollars social media campaign on Twitter with their own #1000days effort. As the Chicago Tribune reported, the GOP campaign sought to highlight an inauspicious milestone for the U.S. Senate. 1,000 since it passed a budget. Democrats, who control the Senate, last approved a budget in 2009.

Writes Copeland, “It’s clear that the digitial [sic] media campaigns had different goals, and #1000days was primarily aimed at emphasizing a point that was notably absent in President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. But if social media as it pertains to politics is truly about connecting with voters and constituents, score one for the Democrats.”

In this particular case, I mostly agree. The GOP’s efforts at gop.gov/sotu this year constituted an unprecedented use of the Web and social media by an opposition party to respond to a State of the Union, with smart integration of Twitter and YouTube. Citizens asked questions on the #GOPSOTU hashtag and Members of Congress responded using YouTube. As the Daily Dot reported, the #1000days hashtag has failed to spread beyond the Beltway. From what I’ve seen, the four reasons why #1000days hasn’t resonated in the same way break down into structural, tactical, and strategic issues:

1) Structural issue: Reach. Based upon the statistics I’ve seen, the @WhiteHouse has much more reach than than any single other “governance” account on Twitter. The GOP caucus in Congress, former Massachusetts governor@MittRomney and the @Heritage Foundation do have, in aggregate, an even or greater number of engaged followers. That said, the @BarackObama campaign account, which amplified the #40dollars conversation, has far greater reach, if lower engagement. Both metrics matter, in terms of the ability to involving and focusing more citizens in a given conversation around a #hashtag at a given time.

2) Tactical issue: Timing. The #1000days campaign was launched during the #SOTU, when the attention of politically engaged Americans was fractured between paying attention to the President’s speech itself, watching online (3m+ visits to wh.gov/sotu), reading the media organizations competing to report or fact check on the speech online, watching the TV networks and, of course, talking to one another.

3) Strategic issue: Adaptability. Agreeing upon and passing a budget is a fundamental, basic issue for the operations of any business, organization or government entity. Congress and the Obama administration have cobbled together a series of continuing resolutions and omnibus bills to fund itself over the past 3 years. While many Americans have to make and live by budgets in their personal lives and businesses, however, the #1000days campaign may be both too abstract and too constrained to a single message. The question about #40dollars, by contrast, asked citizens what it means to them, which is concrete, personal and invites creative answers.

4) Tactical issue: Engagement and Amplification. As Copeland reports, “Ahead of last night’s State of the Union address, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans started tweeting using the hashtag #1000days to accent the amount of time since Senate Democrats passed a federal budget.”

On Tuesday night, the top tweets for a search of the #1000days hashtag come from @MittRomney and Republican politicians. Neither Romney nor @SenJohnMcCain had retweeted any followers who have used the hashtag. @SpeakerBoehner has primarily retweeted the @GOPconference or other members of his caucus. The Heritage Foundation has only retweeted its own staff. That pattern is replicated throughout other participating accounts.

The @WhiteHouse, in contrast, continued its practice of resharing tweets from Twitter users who joined the conversation, sharing the voices of citizens with one another, not just other politicians. There’s a good lesson in this successful use to of Twitter that should extend well beyond citizen engagement and open government circles. One campaign amplified the messages of the representatives, the other channeled the voices of constituents responding to their elected issues on on a given issue back through the accounts coordinating the effort.

As I pointed out last year in an article on social media, politics and influence, it’s of note that the operators of the @WhiteHouse Twitter account now routinely natively retweet other accounts participating in #WHchats. While some of these Tweets will leave followers without context for the Tweet, the White House appears to have shifted its online strategy to one of engagement versus the lower risk style broadcasting that most politicians adopt online. To date, many of the president’s political opponents have not followed suit.

The challenges of these four issues look validated by the results to date: some 6,000 tweets per hour for #40dollars at the height of the campaign, as Ed O’Keefe wrote at the Washington Post. Keefe, on a talk on Monday, given by Kori Schulman, White House deputy director for digital strategy, “by 5 p.m., #40dollars was trending worldwide, Schulman said, and the hashtag was generating about 6,000 tweets per hour. At the height of the push, WhiteHouse.gov received about 5,000 responses per hour to the question.” In total, Schulman said the #40dollars campaign “generated 70,000 tweets, 46,000 submissions via the White House Web site, 10,000 related Facebook posts and contributions from 126,000 users.”

By way of contrast, according to the numbers in Topsy, the #1000days campaign has generated 3,862 tweets in the past week.

Agree? Disagree? What am I missing here.

Laptops, smartphones and social media allowed in U.S. House press gallery

The C-SPAN coverage of the resignation of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and tributes to her in the United States House of Representatives included something new: the House-controlled cameras provided an unusual display of extra TV camera shots in the House chamber, including the Giffords family in the House gallery.

In general, the viewing public does not get to see what’s happening elsewhere in the House. “These additional angles added much to the public’s appreciation for this Congressional action,” said Howard Mortman, communications director for C-SPAN, “and might lead one to ask, why not permit such camera shots every day?”

Mortman also alerted me to another interesting development: According to a new Roll Call story, journalists now can bring their laptops into the press gallery and use them to report on what’s happening. Reporters have to ask to do it — and they’ll need to have fully charged laptop batteries — but Superintendent Jerry Gallegos told Roll Call that he will allow laptops in for special events.

“It won’t be something that at this point we’ll be doing on a daily basis, just because power is an issue out there,” he said. “But because the House changed their rules allowing BlackBerrys on the floor … it didn’t make sense for Members to be able to tweet and not be able to have reporters get the tweets.”

It’s not the first time computers have graced the gallery, Gallegos said. The decision to allow laptops goes back to then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). But the gallery staff tired of arguing with testy writers about why plugging multiple power cords into limited outlets and running wires across the floor is a fire hazard.

“Early on, they weren’t going to be able to operate without plugging in,” he said. “It was very obvious that was going to create a safety hazard.”

Thankfully, battery technology has evolved since the 1990s and the House Chief Administrative Office equipped the chamber with Wi-Fi in August. So, Gallegos said, “It just seemed like now was the time.”

Even if the laptops run out of battery power or have connectivity issues, however, reporters will now have another option: Mortman tells me that iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys and other smartphones will also be allowed into the press gallery of the U.S. House on a “trial basis.”

As a result, we should expect to see more livetweeting and Facebook updates from journalists on-site. That said, there’s a major caveat: Mortman said that the trial will be monitored to ensure that no photos or video are recorded.

Given the role that smartphones now play in the professional lives of journalists of all beats, political, tech or otherwise, the limitation on pictures and video is notable. There’s a good chance that the trial could be tested, as soon as a newsworthy event occurs off the C-SPAN camera. Late last year, during a debate over the payroll tax, House staff shut down C-SPAN cameras. Government staff acting to limit the capacity of a journalist to record a debate between elected representatives in the People’s House might raise valid First Amendment questions.

“One day, hopefully, the House (and U.S. Senate) will also allow in independent media TV cameras,” said Mortman.

Transportation Camp DC gets geeky about the present and future of transit

Today in Washington, the “School without Walls was full of of civic energy around open data, tech, community, bikes, smart cities, systems, efficiency, sustainability, accessibility, trains, buses, hacking, social networking, research, policy, crowdsourcing and more. Transportation Camp, an “unconference” generated by its attendees, featured dozens of sessions on all of those topics and more. As I’ve reported before, transit data is open government fuel for economic growth.

A Case for Open Data in Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Below, the stories told in the tweets from the people show how much more there is to the world of transit than data alone. Their enthusiasm and knowledge made the 2012 iteration of Transportation Camp in the District a success.