What’s this, Spain?

Yesterday some friends posted a link to an article in the Norwegian left wing newspaper, Klassekampen. The article described a new law in Spain, where, in general, fines will be given if you have a demonstration criticizing the government. The law is apparently called “citizen safety act”, “citizen security act” or “public safety/security law” (depending on the translations). My initial response was a general “WTF?”, and I tried to find out more about this.

Apparently, there were some writings around this in end of November, beginning of December. According to the Guardian, this is not a new law, but the update is concerning the fines. Until this, it was up to the judges to decide what the fines should be. The fines are apparantly being suggested to be up to 600.000 Euros for serious offenses. A serious offense is for example a prohibition to demonstrate outside of Spanish government buildings, even if there is no parliament in session. One could not photograph the police either. A website I don’t know, which is called Spanish News Today, also states that it will also be a serious offence to wear hoods, caps, headscarves or masks while taking part in disturbances to avoid being identified by law and order. The article continues by stating that it is not illegal to wear masks or hoods etc., but only to be avoid being identified by law enforcers during the participating in disturbance.

According to Klassekampen, a minor offense is burning the Spanish flag, or insulting the government, which will be a fine of up to 30.000 Euro.

SpanishNewsToday also describes how the law tries to protect law enforcers, and makes using and distributing photographs that could compromise the officers’ safety is a serious offense and will be fined. The fact that you can be fined for taking pictures of the police have not stopped people on twitter posting, al Jazeera shows on Nov 19. Pictures showing police officers seemingly using people as something between a cattle and a punching bag.

Spain has seen practically weekly demonstrations since 2008, and the country also have a strong separatist movement in the Catalan separatist movement. A one of the offenses includes burning the flag, I for one see this as a big kick in the shin for this movement.

But what confuses me in all this, is that I am not sure if this bill has been passed or not? It appears to me that this is either a draft, or a suggestion which is being discussed…. Because I wonder how they, the Spanish government that is, is going to follow through this legislation? The fines are so out-of-context high, and in the middle of financial unrest, it is bound to be a strong pressure on the government. People are unhappy when things don’t work. If the government is going to fine everyone with a fine they are not able to pay, the debt will rise, and potentially prisons will soon be filled up. At the same time, this development has the taste of “democracy is OK, as long as you agree. When you disagree, it’s illegal”. Even though the leading political party, (PP – the Popular Party) is claiming this bill is for protecting the people, it is apparent that many Spanish people are afraid this will limit their freedom of speech.

But what about the bill? Nov 19, the Local, Spanish news in English, says the bill will soon be passed. But after this, I can’t find anything new in the news on this law. Some sites are stating the same as the other – that this is potentially a threat to freedom of speech, and the fines are too large for confort.

What happened to it? Was it passed? Is there at all any discussion about the human rights this law potentially crashes? Is it so that the only thing changed in this law is the size of the fines, and the offenses themselves have existed for a long time (except for the four additions – demonstration in front of government buildings, in front of nuclear stations, in front of airport, and aiming blinding lights to public transport – list from Guardian)?

I was scowled at when I said to my friend that I think I’ll sit back and wait and see. Is this bill so general in its wording that it prohibits people from documenting police abuse, and wearing hoods if the law enforcers claim you were part of a disturbance? If so – how will this go through the European court of Human Rights? And if this is indeed a bill specifically for giving judges guidelines for fines for attacking buildings etc, why is there the evident impression of many people in Spain (as seen in the al Jazeera article) and in some newspapers that the government is crushing all opposition by fines?

This case confuses me, and I hope I will learn more. Preferably before someone gets a fine.

Posted in Democracy, Europe, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Musings around war, USA and support

I am in USA. It is quite intriguing.

When back home in Europe, or when traveling in Asia or anywhere, the people from USA I meet are usually very against US warfare and social politics. Which has made me believe the number of voters are too low to make any difference, and that the country is ruled by a political elite with no connection to the public opinion.

But then I met this man, who went furious when I dared to say that USA is a war-faring country. And although I had to be yelled at for half an hour, it was still refreshing to actually hear someone agreeing with the politics.

I have had my fair share of anti-USA rallies. Our frustration is centered around how USA are such an aggressive force in countries and areas far away from their own country. The lack of diplomacy and the fact that USA very easily starts to bomb foreign soil, is – to me – behaviour which is imperialistic, aggressive, dangerous and despicable.

What I learned from this man finally gave me some food for thought as to why the agressive behaviour just keep on continuing. In his view, Europeans give USA no other choice, because Europeans sit around and watches how assaults from “evil regimes” happens all around them/us. To him, Europe was to blame for more or less all that is wrong with the world, because of their (our) apathy. “Without USA, you would all be speaking German now.” “Without USA, you would all be forced to be reading the Qur’an now.”

In retrospect, I have been thinking a lot on what he said, and although I still believe in diplomacy rather than bombings (and yes, even diplomacy with those we disagree with the most). But I have a larger understanding of the support of these actions, and also the hatred towards apathetic Europeans.

For the guy berating me, the US soldiers are dying in an attempt to rescue other parts of the world. For the soldiers to go out in the first place, the motivation must be there; the belief that they fight for a higher moral cause. Fighting evil. Fighting something destined to be an adversary, and must be destroyed. There is no way to discuss with evil.

Furthermore, I have thought about the concept of limits, more specifically borders. Because other parts of the world are infuriated how USA can just go into countries with no respect of their sovereignty. I have started to think Americans might not have the same concept of borders as I, or any other European have.

USA is a country built up by people from all over the place. When I meet people here, they flamboyantly tell me they are Irish, or Swedish or Italian or whatnot. Even if they, their parents and their grandparents were all born in USA and have never been to that respective country. This way of viewing identity creates, I suppose, a degradation on how the borders between different countries are viewed. Because USA is created by people from everywhere, USA feels responsible for everywhere. And this is provoking for countries who feel patronized. And herein lies some of the difficulties of communication. When USA is confronted with the anger towards their conduct, the respons is that they are doing this for the ones who are complaining. They are doing this for right, and it’s theirs sons and daughters on the line out there.

The fact that bombing is wrong, isn’t really a part of the question at all.

I’m just throwing a thought out there. There are a lot of variations on the US culture I experience while I am here, and a couple of my next posts might probably be coloured by the same sort of musings.

Posted in Democracy, History, Politics, USA, War | Leave a comment

To kick an Englishman while he’s down. Sentencing the UK riots.

My previous post was my initial response to a news article I read about two boys being sentenced to prison for 4 years for writing on Facebook. This post will be about the harsh sentencing concerning the riots in present day UK. I will also post some thoughts about the riots themselves. The reason why I haven’t done this before is not that I don’t follow them, but because I can’t really figure out what the riots are about. And the reason for this is the the reluctance of the media to go into this.

The UK Newspaper The Guardian is the one who first made me aware of the Facebook-sentencing, and it is also became one of the main source of my knowledge in this case. The Guardian is a self acclaimed centre/left newspaper, though not as rigid as not allowing centre/right columnists to have space. It is using investigating journalism. It is generally considered to be an objective, trustworthy news source.

Jordan (right) Perry (left)Anyway. The Guardian writes this (16th Aug 2011) about what the two boys were sentenced with:

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, set up an “event” called Smash Down in Northwich Town for the night of 8 August on the social networking site but no one apart from the police, who were monitoring the page, turned up at the pre-arranged meeting point outside a McDonalds restaurant. Blackshaw was promptly arrested.

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Latchford, Warrington, used his Facebook account in the early hours of 9 August to design a web page entitled The Warrington Riots. The court was told it caused a wave of panic in the town. When he woke up the following morning with a hangover, he removed the page and apologised, saying it had been a joke. His message was distributed to 400 Facebook contacts, but no rioting broke out as a result.

First of all we all probably agree they are silly boys. What they did was short-sighted and stupid in the context of a country who is on the edge. Especially when knowing they did this while being drunk. But this does not warrant 4 years imprisonment. At best, they could have gotten a symbolical fine. 4 years in jail is just way out of proportions. And the desire for revenge after the riots seem to be a ruling force within the courtrooms.

According to CNN (17th Aug 2011), over 1700 people, many of them under 18, have been arrested, with over 1000 being charged.  The BBC (15th Aug 2011) claim over 3100 have been arrested and over 1100 charged. The strict penalties have been embraced by Prime Minister David Cameron. For example, he described the Facebook-sentencing thus: “It’s up to the courts to make decisions about sentencing, but they’ve decided to send a tough message and it’s very good that the courts feel able to do that.” (BBC, 17th Aug 2011). But as the prison population grows, the jails are getting problems with dealing with the excessive numbers suddenly entering the prisons (Guardian, 19th Aug 2011).

Even if I reacted initially to the Facebook-cases, because of it’s obvious strain on freedom of speech and the ridicule of the justice system to imprison people for doing nothing, there is a general hardening in the judgements after the riots:

David Atto, 18, pleaded guilty to the theft of two Burberry T-shirts, worth perhaps £60. He told the police he had found them on the pavement. He pleaded guilty, had no relevant previous convictions, and was sentenced to a day in custody.

Then there was Nicolas Robinson, 23, of Borough, south-east London, who was jailed for six months for burglary. He took a £3.50 case of water from Lidl supermarket. He also pleaded guilty and had no relevant previous convictions.

Quotation from the BBC (17th Aug 2011).

Obviously, there are a lot of other examples of sentencing. A quick google on “riots sentencing UK” or similar will show this. And the courts are quick. They are not adressing the riots per se, but they judge people for vandalism and violence etc. As the sentences are increasing in numbers, the errors by the judges are also coming forth. A mother of two who were nowhere near the riots, was given a pair of shorts stolen from the riots by another person. The mother was originally jailed for 5 months. The sentence was later, after a lot of pressure, changed to 75 hours unpaid work (Guardian, 19th Aug 2011). Picture from the Manchester Evening News, by Chris Bull

A 18 year old, Dane Williamson, was firstly committed of arsoning and property damage worth about £500.000, but was suddenly cleared of all charges after 9 days in prison (Manchester Evening News, 20th Aug 2011 – the picture is also taken from this site). His solicitor sums very much up in her statement: “The problem has been that dealing with the riots the courts have been very much dealing with a presumption of guilt as opposed to a presumption of innocence” (Manchester Evening News 20th of Aug 2011).

For me, there is no doubt that the riots and the looting is a problem. A lot of the general population in the UK also feel uneasy about this. There have been spontaneous created clean-up events through social media, and a lot of the population tries to calm down the situation. So the rioters are just a few. And they have pissed off a lot of people. The harshness of the penalties show how deep the anger towards them seep. The thoughts of revenge has no place is a courtroom, and if the solicitor in the previous section is right, it is cause for serious concern.

But why do they riot and cause this much harm?

The riots began after a peaceful demonstration 6th of August 2011 against the police who shot down a civilian two days before. The demonstration escalated. The British officials were denying any connection between discontentment and the riots, and claimed the rioters were only looters. This gave the rioters an image of being nothing more than hooligans. This was also how the media kept presenting them. Even when voices tried to explain the background for the riots, the media were to shut their ears.

But hooligans don’t walk the streets several days in a row.

The Guardian (again) has collected data from 1000 court cases, and this shows that a very large part of the fellons are young, male and unemployed. Being poor is no excuse to do crime, that is correct. But when you’re poor, unemployed and face very few opportunities, you will get angry when you observe how the British upper class keep stealing from the people. Like the Telegraph (19th Aug 2011) reports; A shadow minister, who owns 24 houses, claims he has had £100.000 (approx. $164.000 or €113.000) in expenses. Some of these expenses were a dishwasher and a new bed. And flowers to be planted in the gardens of his second mortgage-free home. And what is worse is that his claims are not even considered stealing tax money; they are expected. Meanwhile, back in the poor parts, the unemployment welfare is going down, and unemployment rates are rising.

At the same time, some British officials are considering taking away welfare from the people who are convicted, but not jailed for riot-related crime (Guardian, 19th Aug 2011). The already poor, desperate people who saw an opportunity to take what they could because they do not see any other way, is to be further punished. The solution for some to quiet the rioters and still discontent is apparently to give the rioters even more economical distress.

Shortly; governmental officials who don’t need handouts, receive money for second houses, while those who are not able to get a job, keep getting their financial help decreased. I understand a lot of human reactions like greed or “me and myself first”, and I suppose that is what fuels the officials to help themselves first. But I also believe that the government should be there for the people. As we’ve seen from the damages of the riots, trying to give everyone a fare chance is adamant in order to try and keep a society together. In a society, we are all connected, even if you don’t like it. So I can also understand the human reaction of rioting against the ruling force when you find that you are being treated unfairly.

While the higher economical game plays out in relative silence, the imprisonments of the poor continue. British government try to jail their way out of this crisis, and they still seem to be blind to the fact that social-political changes must be made. Nothing can defend looting. Some information may help understand the looting, but nothing can defend looting. Still, things will always have gone very far when some people go from quiet demonstrations to a full blown riot. Riots never appear out of nowhere. They never come from a wicked idea just for the fun of it. The respect for the law will not increase, but rather decrease when the ludicrous sentences are being thrown out at such a high pace and with such severity and inaccuracy. The wish for revenge by so many civilians (and officials) in the UK must not, and cannot, over-shadow the need to keep one’s head cold and punish where punishment is supposed to be. And that is both to the vandals, but also to the government for not being aware of the discontent, for not listening to the discontent, and for mollycoddling each other with the tax money which has better use elsewhere than in the pocket of a rich man.

Why did this happen? I suppose there is no one answer to this. But I have presented some of my thoughts, and I wish more people would do the same. There is something terrible going on when you jail people for 4 years for not doing anything but saying something out loud on Facebook. Seriously – has anyone not said something stupid on Facebook, which, if it was taken completely serious, could have been considered to “incite illegal behaviour”? Punishment must be in accordance to the crime, and right now, the British courtrooms seem to have forgotten this.

I’m going to end this entry by introducing something on a different note. My last post started with something about me being surprised I hadn’t heard about the two Facebook cases previously. And also while doing research on the case, I find that the media is surprisingly uninformative concerning the riot and causes for the riot. Yes, you get information, but it is hesitant and restrained. And then, suddenly, I am given a link which shows me I’m not alone in this confused wondering about the media absence of investigation. According to a freelance journalist, Ryan Gallagher, the Times’ football editor, Tony Evans, stood up in a meeting of National Union of Journalists where they were supposed to be discussing the media coverage of the riots. Ryan Gallagher taped the main part of Tony Evans’ speech, and transcribed it for us to read. If you wish to read it, it’s here. I want to quote the end of that speech:

“Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a will to understand in this country. And I also think there is an instinctive fear in some journalists – quite alot of them – to actually confront the preconceptions of the mass of the British public.

This is a time when journalism has been trusted probably about as little as it’s ever been trusted. And what people don’t want to do is say to the people who say “they’re louts, send them to the army, hang them, shoot them”, no, you’re wrong, think about it. It’s easier to go along with public perceptions…

But that’s not our role. Our role is to come up with the truth. And I don’t believe we’ve got to the truth in the last few weeks.”

From my work on this entry, I have found that basically the only news source in the West which has tried to go behind the actual actions, is the Guardian. No one denies that vandalism is a crime, but when very few try to understand why the vandalism happened, nothing can be learnt from this, and no changes will be made to stop this from happening again.

The last word in this post is a news clip from Russia Today (18th of Aug 2011). Russia Today is an English speaking Russian news channel. This clip presents a larger picture of the riots and the sentencing being made, the same way I have tried to make them here in this entry.

Posted in Democracy, Economy, Europe, Law, Politics, Riots, Social Media | Leave a comment

It’s wrong when They suppress freedom of speech and rights to privacy, but….

“Days like these make me ashamed of being British” a friend of mine said when I showed her a news article about to boys of 20 and 22 in UK, who were arrested and sentenced to jail for four – 4 – years for using Facebook to incite disorder (article from the Guardian, Aug.16th 2011). As many know, this last week has been a turbulent time for London and other large cities in the United Kingdom. And this imprisonment was probably to make a statement.

But wait… Where does “imprisoning people for saying stuff on Facebook” fit in?

I have previously written about the SMISC program, where the Unites States’ Armed Forces are trying to figure out a way to influence and monitor social media. And this particular case in the United Kingdom is the core of my concerns.

In addition. What difference is there between imprisoning people for stating an opinion for a “good” reason and for a “bad” reason? The Western World (including Norway) has sent military force to countries where this kind of silencing of the general public has been viewed as a gross overstep on human rights. When this happens in countries we don’t identify with, it’s bad.

But somewhere along the line, it appears to have became perfectly fine to refuse people freedom of speech in the Western world.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/16/uk-riots-four-years-disorder-facebook

Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, picture of the article from the Guardian

The guys, Jordan and Perry, might be a part of EDL – English Defence League, the white boys who share the same views as Anders Behring Breivik (that is; destroy all the Muslims and Marxists, and make UK “pure”). They might be left winged Anarchists. I have no idea. And at the same time, that is not important in this case.

What is important, is that United Kingdom has just made a stand to fight freedom of speech.

The boys were jailed for inciting riots on Facebook. And the riots came, just not where the boys had suggested it to be, and not in any way affiliated with the boys. Still, a court in UK sentenced them. For 4 years. They are 20 and 22 years old.

As I have also mentioned on the SMISC-entry, I think it’s a good idea for the governments to know what they’re inhabitants are preoccupied with. And I also once read about a thief who actually updated his Facebook status while in the middle of a robbery, and that’s how the police found out who it was (it might be an urban myth?). But using the information on social media is not the same as using statements posted online as the only reason for imprisonment, especially since no crime came out of it.

And as a final word to my friend: Don’t be ashamed of being British. Be ashamed of being human if this goes by unnoticed by the larger audience, and you didn’t do anything to make this more known.

Posted in Democracy, Europe, Faith in humanity, Politics, Social Media, Terrorism | 7 Comments

Stop coddling the super-rich by Buffett

As I have  mentioned, I am a bit busy at the time. So instead of writing something myself, I want to give some focus to a very interesting commentary I read a couple of days ago…

I found this at the Opinion pages on New York Times. It revolves around the economical situation in USA and the priorities of the politicians.

_________________________________________________________________

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

By WARREN E. BUFFETT
Published: August 14, 2011

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

_________________________________________________________________

And again; this is not my piece, but an opinion found on the Opinion pages on New York Times‘ website.

Posted in Democracy, Economy, Politics, USA | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pentagon wants to control Social Media: conspiration theories and reality check

I believe: Online anonymity is worth fighting for

When I started to write this entry, I had just read a post by Chris Gayomali of Time. A short article on how Pentagon is going to spend $42 million on supervising social media. They are apparantly doing this in order to recognize patterns so they can “find terrorists”.

Even though I am very affectionate towards Wikileaks, I like to check my sources before I believe anything. For all i know, Wikileaks could have been hacked and used to misinform the public about this. So the first thing I do, is Google “Pentagon Social Media”. A whole set of hits are from blogs with the title “Pentagon seeks to use social media for propaganda purposes“. Which I haven’t heard of before. Which is odd, I usually hear about everything worth noticing. But then again, these could just be conspiracy theorists. Clicking on the posts and reading some of it makes it obvious that both Chris Gayomali and the odd blogger talks about the same thing: the Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. (And the reason I haven’t heard about it probably have something to do with me being preoccupied with the attacks on Norway.)

The SMISC (“smisk”, coincidentally, in Norwegian means “sucking up” or “ass-kissing”) is a 37 pages advertisement for a job, more or less. They state the purpose of the program as thus (p.4):

The conditions under which our Armed Forces conduct operations are rapidly changing with the spread of blogs, social networking sites, and media-sharing technology (such as YouTube), and further accelerated by the profileration of mobile technology. Changes to the nature of conflict resulting from the use of social media are likely to be as profound as those resulting from previous communication revolutions. The effective use of social media has the potential to help the Armed Forces better understand the environment in which it operates and to allow more agile use of information in support of operations.

More specifically, the following goals are set:

  1. Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.
  2. Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media
    sites and communities.
  3. Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.
  4. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.

I understand the importance of social media, and I understand the importance of following social media to be able to understand currents throughout the population. Recent events, both in Egypt, China and Norway, and also many other specific countries, shows the importance of social media.

The British Newspaper the Telegraph (written July 21st) connects the whole program to be signs of fear from US top military leaders to fear the arab revolts (the Arab Spring). To me, this whole project sounds like another step against freedom of speech. One thing is to observe, another thing is to monitor, identify individuals, and have a spesific set of opinions considered to be “correct” so that they will debate against adversaries online.

China is not known to have a liberal view on freedom of speech. China keep a strict surveillance on bloggers and tweeters, to the point where if you even mention the Jasmine revolution (inspired by the Arab revolution and the information and use of Social media), you might be imprisoned. Examples from Amnesty International:

Twitter-user Hua Chunhui was detained in February in Jiangsu province on charges of ‘endangering state security’, after being accused by police of tweeting messages mentioning the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ from his Twitter account @wxhch64.

His fiancée Cheng Jianping had previously been sentenced to a year of Re-education Through Labour in November 2010 for retweeting a single satirical tweet by Hua about anti-Japanese protests.

These are only two people. The Chinese government is executing a mass arrest on “netizens”; online activists. The Chinese government knows how suppressed people can fight back.

Is this the motivation behind SMISC?

After Anders Behring Breivik (I manage to say his name now) killed all those people, a lot of attention in Norway has come to the “closed internet societies”, where right-minded people gather and urge each other on with messages of hate. So obviously, internet and social media where people can interact is important for opinion-making. And if their extremist views are never being fought back, catastrophe, like Anders Behring Breivik, could happen. It could.

The lightning could also strike you dead next weekend. Are you gonna spend your whole week inside a car? And would you trust the Armed Forces to fight lightening?

The SMISC program has as it’s main purpose to firstly identify opinions: Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes). Which is a good idea. Every society should keep in touch with opinions of the people. Usually, the news or social scientists are doing this, and having the Armed Forces doing this sounds more threatening. Further on; apparently the Pentagon is going to fight trolling:  Detect, classify, measure and track the (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation. Pretty impressive.

They are also going to try to speak louder than the common people of the internet, by recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities. Which in itself is an impossible task, and I wonder what they believe they will accomplish by this. Will the US Armed Forces become super-trollers? Will they surf the web for every online community in order to influence web-users?

For every conspiracy theorist, surveillance and Big Brother is already a fact. With this new plan to (i)dentify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns there is no denying. But then again, the “Patriot Act” (another completely misguided name for a terrible overstep on human rights to privacy) has made it pretty clear that US citizens are in the danger of being monitored and surveillanced at any given time. When this thought pattern is used by the Armed Forces online, I am a bit spooked. I live in an open society with freedom of speech and rights to privacy. Will I, a foreign citizen, be surveiled by Pentagon? Would I need to be more consequent user of Tor?

The US Armed Forces are going to decide which opinion is OK to have. Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations. On whose authorothy? After the bombings in Norway, some people cried out for right winged extremism to be banned. Because if no such internet forums could exist, Anders Behring Breivik would not pack himself so deeply into a ideal to start killing people. But as I have stressed previously; freedom of speech is a human right. Further; if you don’t have freedom of speech, frustration will build up. Are the government, or even the Armed Forces, going to silence a discontent public who criticise the government? Who are the adversaries? Al Quaeda? Libya and Moammar Khadaffi? Muslims in general? Communists? Chinese dissidents? Expat US citizens? Wikileaks? Norwegian bloggers?

Why the Military is in charge of this, is disturbing in the first place, but even more disturbing is the lack of public guidelines of what the areas they are going to work with.

The whole project could easily been overlooked by me, seeing that keeping a keen eye on Social Media and public opinions is something I find kinda obvious for a government to do. Trying to influence it is just wishful thinking. Identify participants and intent is disturbing, but not new. But where project screwed up, was to announce this in the middle of an economical crisis. $42 million for a project which seem like wishful thinking at best.

In summary; protect your online privacy, and check your sources.

Posted in Democracy, Politics, Social Media, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Some delay

My initial idea was to have one or two entries each week, but this week has been rather busy. I am working on something, and will post it as soon as I am finished with it.

Posted in Personal | Leave a comment