6 February 2013, 19:32

Dumb ways to regulate internet

Dumb ways to regulate internet
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While it seems more and more people are moving away from Facebook and social networks in general – too much envy, too much harassment and too little privacy. And some people decide to forget the worst and take the best that human interaction can offer – and build a social network around that.

While it seems more and more people are moving away from Facebook and social networks in general – too much envy, too much harassment and too little privacy. And some people decide to forget the worst and take the best that human interaction can offer – and build a social network around that. Activists from the city of Tomsk have just launched a new social network focused on volunteering. Located at prodobro.info this is basically and extension of an interactive map with added social network functionality. Through the interface users may ask for help or offer it. A representative of the “Association of Timurite squads of Tomsk region” Andrey Leonov told RIA News agency that the majority of younger Russians spend their time online, in social networks – this includes the actual Timurites. A little side note here: The Timurite movement, also known as Timur or Timurovtsy movement is youth volunteering movement popular in the USSR, the idea of which was heavily promoted by formalized youth organizations. The name and the ideology were inspired by the book Timur and His Squad, authored by Arkady Gaidar – it’s a story of a young boy Timur and his close friends, who take it upon themselves to uphold the law and high moral standards in their area – basically, the acted like teenage vigilantes – Spiderman, anyone? The story is indeed similar to super-hero comics, albeit there are no actual superpowers involved. Regardless, back in the day, over half a century ago, this was a very popular book and kids loved to follow in Timur’s sidesteps – at least, according to those who witnessed those times. But times – they are a-changing’. When I was growing up there were no such squads, neither grassroots nor organized on a larger scale. Thankfully, the initiative is being revived, as we can see – and they’re trying to appeal to a larger audience through kids’ favorite medium – social networks.

So back to the network. You know the “Like” button, of course. This new social network went a step further and introduced two buttons – “I have a problem” and “I want to help”. The first button will allow you to share a problem – add it to the pending problem list and mark the location on the map. You can even add photos to illustrate what is it exactly that needs resolution. Social network participants then see these problems by clicking “I want to help” and, well, hopefully go ahead and help. Leonov promised extended social network capability, such as a comment system – he didn’t specify if users can tag problems as ‘pending’, so that several squads don’t rush to the problematic region at once, though. I tried using this website myself and I have to say, while the idea is definitely great, I wish they would have gone public with it only after fixing some obvious problems – for example, if I try to add a problem, I get a 404 – page not found error. That’s a serious issue – if one of the main functions of the network is not working, then what’s the point? These problems aside, the network has already plans for development. For instance, they have high hopes for competitions – basically, it’s a “who does the nicest deed” sort of deal. Organizers also plan on encouraging senior citizens to use it – since they’re usually the ones who need help and since they usually not tech-savvy, youngers will host e-literacy workshops. For now there’s fewer than a hundred people there, so that’s unfortunate; most of the activities are located around Tomsk region – I really hope they’ll fix the major bugs right away and start working on a publicity campaign – no matter how great an idea is, it has to be known by enough people to actually work.

Speaking of good deeds, this Tuesday was the “Safer Internet Day”, an international event which aims to promote safer internet practices. According to the official website, “Safer Internet Day 2013 [was] the tenth edition of the event, and [took] place on Tuesday 5 February 2013. The theme for the day [was]'Online rights and responsibilities', [and users were encouraged to] 'Connect with respect'.” I guess it’s a burning issue these days – a lot of people are connecting, indeed, but respect – well, just look at comments section of a YouTube video. However, as we’ve learned the hard way, here, in Russia, sometimes safety can be censorship in sheep’s clothing – and not political censorship or anything like that – even worse, I guess, seemingly random and illogical actions shutting down various websites who are deemed to be breaking the law. Hold this in mind when we explore the latest example after the break.


Dumb ways to die are not just dumb – apparently, they’re inspiring! I’m talking of course about the viral super-hit which took the blogosphere by storm late last year. Here’s a reminder. The music video entitled “Dumb Ways to Die” is actually a PSA. It has cute little monsters singing about dumb ways to die and, well, doing that, and by the end of the clip focus shifts to train-related fatalities; by minute three the song finishes with a straightforward message: "Be safe around trains. A message from Metro" - that's Melbourne Metro Trains. According to the Facebook page of the advertising agency McCann Melbourne who've made this viral hit, the company Executive Creative Director John Mescall said: “It’s pretty cool to make an ad that’s getting more shares than Rihanna. And even cooler that people are actually buying it off iTunes.” Cool indeed. Dare I say, could very well be called the mellower, dry-humored cousin of Gangnam Style in its viral nature. Published November 14th, the official version is now just several hundred thousand users shy of 40 million views. If you start entering “dumb” in Google, the engine is quick to auto-finish it for you with the name of the music video; to boot, there’s already a Wikipedia article on it – yes, they’ve managed to find enough information about it to write over 700 words. And, actually, it’s just been updated, too – that’s what I wanted to talk about. The section is called “Censorship” – that’s weird, what relation can this cute and, more important, informative and catchy song possibly have with censorship? You see, someone very bright, very insightful and probably with Ph. D in Psychology has decided that the video is nothing else but encouragement of suicides. That’s right. I don’t… really, I have no idea how to justify this logic. The clip itself wasn’t censored - not yet, anyway; only a link to it, posted in a LiveJournal blog entry of Artemiy Lebedev, a renowned Russian web designer, top blogger and internet personality. This became public February 5th, when Lebedev himself posted the message he received from LiveJournal’s administration, informing him of their need to ban the ‘controversial’ blog post as requested by Roskomnadzor. Here’s a quote from the explanation provided by Roskomnadzor and Rospotrebnadzor, the organization that makes a ruling whether something is suicide advocacy: “The text of the song contains description of various methods of suicide, for example: use drugs past their expiration date, stand on the edge of a train station platform, run across rails between platforms, eat a tube of superglue and others. Cartoon characters illustrated these methods of suicide in an appealing to children and adolescents humorous manner. Such lines as “Use your clothes dryer as a hiding place” and “I wonder what’s this red button do?” contain encouragement for committing these acts” end quote. That’s right. Apparently children are so stupid that they cannot understand the point of this cartoon and video. Well, that page has now been blocked by LiveJournal. The page where Lebedev complains about it, and, again, links to the same video, is not blocked. I wonder if Roskomnadzor, the watchdog organization responsible for Russian blacklists, is aware of the term ‘consistency’, but ah well.

Oh, and I just checked the official blacklist website - http://zapret-info.gov.ru/. Dumbwaystodie.com is not in the list. The YouTube video, however, is – I guess Google is just slower to react than LiveJournal – I wonder if YouTube will indeed display the “video is not available in your country” message after all of if they decide to fight this decision. Although there are some user reports which indicate that the video is replaced with “this content is not available in your country due to a legal complaint from the government" message. An interesting fact – the blocked LiveJournal post – which is easily accessible by an out-of-country IP address such as, for example, an anonymous proxy – has not just a link to the music video. It also has the author, Artemiy Lebedev, complaining about Roskomnadzor banning his comic strip which makes fun of the ban – I mentioned this in one of previous broadcasts. Needless to say, the controversial internet celebrity is less than happy about it and uses a lot of unpleasant words aimed at the Russian authorities who are “cleaning up the internet”. So… if I had to make a guess, I would say this is either a demonstrative slap in the face of Lebedev and bloggers in general or a spiteful reaction – find any official excuse to go against an offending party. In any case, I’m pretty sure there will be more developments in this regard. For now, let’s move on.

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