Twitter vs. Tyrants: Education and Security

My colleague Chris Doten asked me to suggest panelists for this congressional briefing on the role of new media in authoritarian states. I blogged about the opening remarks of each panelist here. But the key issues really came to fore during the Q/A session.

These issues addressed Ushahidi and data validation, security and education. This blog post addresses the issues raised on the latter. The text below includes my comments on some key points by panelists.


Nathan Freitas (NYU)

  • Now, I’m fortunate to be teaching at NYU’s Interactive Tele- communications Program, the course titled:  “Social Activism using Mobile Technology.” This is a one of the first of its time courses and I believe more education opportunities like this should be given to students to understand the alternative opportunities they have coming out of school.
  • [W]e need to have more opportunities to educate students that they can have  a career in using technology to support a variety of causes, and not just focus  on Wall Street or going to work at Google.  So I’m working on that, and I hope some of you will as well.

Me: I couldn’t agree more. This is why my colleague Joshua Goldstein and I co-taught a full-semester undergraduate course on Digital Democracy last semester. All the courseware is open and available here.


Evgeny Morozov (Georgetown)

  • I think that reaching out to Twitter was the most terrible thing that the State  Department could have done at that point, in part because it did confirm the  thesis of David Inoshoradis (ph) that Twitter is being used as a platform for fomenting the next revolution.
  • I think we see, now, looking at the trials happening in Tehran, that the authorities do perceive the information technology as a threat.  Whether it is actually a threat or not doesn’t really matter […]
  • [T]here will always be the human factor involved here, and you would never, no matter how secure your technology is and no matter how many trainings you run, you still run into basic problems, particularly in authoritarian regimes, where torture is much cheaper than hacking.

Me: I completely agree, which is why my Guide on How to Communicate Securely in Repressive Environments addresses both technology tactics and non-technology tactics. Lets also not forget that successful civil resistance movements existed before Twitter.

Chris Spence (NDI)

  • In a lot of ways, the Internet tools that we’re talking about are black boxes to a lot of people.  They don’t know if, okay, I’ve got this image on a phone or got this video on a phone, what am I going to do now?  […] Is it safe for me to transfer it? Is it safe for me to put it up on YouTube?
  • All of those decisions have to be made on a very personal level and I think that’s one part of the discussion that gets a little bit missed, when you think about these people using these tools.

Me: I share Chris’s concern and agree that this discussion is at times overlooked. Groups like DigiActive and Digital Democracy, Tactical Tech specifically focus training individuals on how to use new media and digital technology in secure ways. See also my *Guide on How to Communicate Securely in Repressive Environments.

Nathan Freitas (NYU)

  • I’ve learned an important lesson in working with the Tibetan independence movement and others: It’s that we can’t presume what people are willing – are or are not willing to do for their own freedom and liberty and democracy.

Me: I completely agree.

Chiyu Zhou (GIF)

  • [A]n any-day user has no computer knowledge at all, even.  As long as he knows how to get Internet, then he can use the little tool and double-click it, and then he can penetrate the firewall. So that’s the very, very challenging work.

Me: Fully agreed, again. I’m relying on tech savvy activists like Chiyu to make censorship circumvention tools that are as easy as just surfing the web. The importance of achieving this goal cannot possibly be over-stated.

Patrick Philippe Meier

3 responses to “Twitter vs. Tyrants: Education and Security

  1. Pingback: Twitter vs. Tyrants: Summary of Congressional Briefing « iRevolution

  2. Pingback: Why Dictators Love the Web or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Say So What?! « iRevolution

  3. Pingback: May I borrow your pen? « Healthcare IT: How good is your strategy? « Healthcare IT: How good is your strategy?

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