Sunday, April 10, 2011

US Mining Urdu Content on Facebook and Twitter?

Why does the US government love social media and hate Wikileaks?

The answer is simple: Unlike Wikileaks that reveals unflattering information about its inner workings, the US government sees a treasure trove of detailed data on Facebook, twitter, blogs and other social media...particularly in Urdu and Arabic in light of recent developments in the Middle East and South Asia.



All of the stuff on digital social networks can be a great source of knowledge about user data and sentiments that governments and corporations love to exploit. It can be used not only to gather valuable intelligence for better product marketing and effective government propaganda, but also to tweak policies and offer products and services through crowd-sourcing to achieve desired outcomes.

The real challenge is how to make sense of the vast amount of information, discern meaningful patterns and use it as guide for action. The current application programming interfaces (APIs) and tools for social media monitoring and analysis are still evolving. The current tools focus mainly on sentiment analysis, giving governments and companies a general sense at best.

Among the various researchers tackling the challenge is an Indian-American computer scientist Rohini Srihari. She is working under a US grant to help mine and decipher data from Urdu social media. Her company, called Janya Inc., gets funding from the Pentagon for the project.

In a recent interview with NPR Radio, Srihari explained: "What I want is to determine who are the people, places and things being talked about; Is there an opinion being expressed? Is it a positive or negative opinion being expressed?"

If the ongoing social media data mining research efforts do succeed, the rich and powerful corporations and governments will be further strengthened to manipulate the opinions and preferences of the average consumers and voters. Such an outcome could lead to people being influenced to act against their own best self-interest in the name of freedom and democracy.

Here's a video clip titled "Urdu Enters the Digital Age" featuring Srihari explaining how her software works:



Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Obama's Success With Social Media

Obama on Urdu Poetry, Cricket, Daal, Keema

Case Against Wikileaks' Assange

PakAlumni-Pakistani Social Network

Media and Telecom Revolution in Pakistan

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Pakistan Tops Text Message Growth

WiMax Rollout in Pakistan

15 comments:

Mayraj said...

I do not think common man is naive outside US (US is another story).
Remember failure if Al Hurra vs success of Al Jazeera!

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Niall Ferguson in Newsweek fretting about terrorists using social media:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that information technology—in particular social networking through the Internet—is changing the global balance of power. The “Facebook Generation” has already been credited with the overthrow of the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. For a brief period, the darling of Tahrir Square was the young Google executive Wael Ghonim.

Yet there is another side to the story. It is not only proponents of democracy who know how to exploit the power of online networking. It is also the enemies of freedom.

Ask yourself: just how did the murderous mob in Mazar-e Sharif find out about the burning of a Quran in Florida? Look no further than the Internet and the mobile phone. Since 2001 cell-phone access in Afghanistan has leapt from zero to 30 percent.
----------
It seems paradoxical. In Samuel Huntington’s version of the post–Cold War world, there was going to be a clash between an Islamic civilization that was stuck in a medieval time warp and a Western civilization that was essentially equivalent to modernity. What we’ve ended up with is something more like a mashup of civilizations, in which the most militantly antimodern strains of Islam are being channeled by the coolest technology the West has to offer.

Here’s a good example. According to the Jihadica website, there is now a special data package produced by the “Mobile Detachment” of the “al-Ansar al-Mujahideen Forum” especially for cell phones. Users can download encryption software, pictures, and 3GP-format video clips with titles like “A Martyr Eulogizing Another Martyr” by the Somalia-based Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen. Also available to users is the electronic magazine al-Sumud (“Resistance”) published by the Afghan branch of the Taliban, and edifying documents—available in both MS Word and Adobe formats—like “How to Prepare for Your Afterlife.” Killer apps, indeed.

Then there is Inspire, the online magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and aimed at aspiring jihadists in the West. In addition to bomb-making instructions, it also publishes target lists of individuals against whom fatwas have been proclaimed.

No one should pretend that these messages do not find receptive ears. In May 2010 Roshonara Choudhry stabbed the British M.P. Stephen Timms after having watched 100 hours of extremist sermons by Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Where did she find these sermons? On YouTube, of course. Al-Awlaki’s other followers include the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.

In short, Google’s pro-democracy Wael Ghonim is probably a less significant figure than Fouad X, the head of IT for Hizbullah in Lebanon, who tells Joshua Ramo (at the beginning of his superb book The Age of the Unthinkable) that “our email is flooded with CVs” from Islamist geeks wanting to “serve a sacred cause.”

So far, so bad. Now here’s the real problem. Many of these same Islamist geeks (among them Al-Awlaki) have hailed the so-called Arab Spring as a golden opportunity. The March 29 issue of Inspire declared: “The revolutions that are shaking the thrones of dictators are good for the Muslims, good for the mujahideen, and bad for the imperialists of the West and their henchmen in the Muslim world.”

The clash of civilizations would have been easy for the West to win if it had simply pitted the ideas and institutions of the 21st century against those of the seventh. No such luck. In the new mash of civilizations, our most dangerous foes are the Islamists who understand how to post fatwas on Facebook, email the holy Quran, and tweet the call to jihad.

Anonymous said...

@riaz

Please read the case of hgharry case where the commanderx dumped the communication beween the security company and fbi.

Security company was writing malware trojans to track the internet users by infesting the individual pcs. So it is common that the discussion blogs are farmed in the name of national interest.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Op Ed about Pakistani-American Syed Fahad Hashmi published in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

By Jeanne Theoharis (Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College)

Pale and gaunt, he stood there, having endured three years of pretrial solitary confinement. "Alhamdullilah," he said.

Yes. He had allowed an acquaintance to stay with him in his student apartment in London—an acquaintance who had raincoats, ponchos, and waterproof socks in his luggage, which the acquaintance later delivered to Al Qaeda.
---------
Eight years earlier, Fahad and I had sat across from each other in my office. A student in my civil-rights seminar, he had come in to discuss his final research paper. Months after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, he wanted to examine the denial of civil rights and constitutional protections that Muslim groups across the political spectrum were facing in the United States.
----------
A day before trial, the government dropped the other three charges. That it did so suggests that it had applied draconian pretrial measures, not because it considered Fahad a high-level terrorist, but to induce his cooperation or conviction.

Six weeks later, Judge Preska sentenced him to 15 years in prison. At the sentencing, it became clear that Fahad posed a threat not only because of luggage brought to his apartment, but because of his ideology. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire called it "an ideology of violence and intolerance," noting that "not every person who supports Al Qaeda is going to pull a trigger or throw a bomb or launch an attack." Citing Fahad's "anti-American jihadist ideology," the judge echoed that McCarthyesque logic of deterrence.
------------
We have freedom of speech and build bridges of dialogue and debate, I teach my students, and what makes that hard is that we have to hear things we do not like and be confronted with truths and opinions far removed from our own.

But those lessons are not upheld in our public culture, which has drawn arbitrary, silencing constrictions around the speech and association of Muslim-Americans. While Christian and Jewish political dissents regularly enter American public debate (militant Christian anti-abortion rhetoric, for instance, may be censured but is not criminalized), Islamic political dissent condemning U.S. practices becomes "subject to ferocious penalties," as Randolph Bourne decried long ago, and Fahad had quoted in his paper.

"If you see something, say something." Our duty, I believe, is different—to see in a terrorism suspect a person deserving of rights and humane treatment; to speak out against torture when it happens in a New York jail, not just when it occurs overseas; to insist that the Bill of Rights applies to all defendants all of the time. To take responsibility for the ways each of us has become complicit in the civil-rights violations of our era.We have freedom of speech and build bridges of dialogue and debate, I teach my students, and what makes that hard is that we have to hear things we do not like and be confronted with truths and opinions far removed from our own.


http://chronicle.com/article/My-Student-the-Terrorist/126937/

Riaz Haq said...

A Pakistani's tweets captured the events in Abbottabad in a twitter stream hours before Obama announced the killing of Osama Bin Laden, according to CNET news:

Even before U.S. special forces succeeded in their mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden earlier today, Twitter users were recording a rough outline of the events to come.

Sohaib Athar, who describes himself as a 30-ish independent software consultant "taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops," happened to be in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 10 hours ago.

Athar heard the helicopters used during the raid. He shared updates live on Twitter, according to the microblogging service's timestamps. And he's likely to be a footnote in history as a result.

President Obama announced bin Laden's demise this evening, saying the elusive al-Qaeda leader was killed in a firefight and the identity of his body had been confirmed. (See related CNET story.)

Here are some excerpts from the conversation that Athar and other Twitter users had over the last 10 hours:

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64780730286358528
Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event). about 10 hours ago via TweetDeck

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64783440226168832
A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S about 10 hours ago via TweetDeck

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64792407144796160
@m0hcin all silent after the blast, but a friend heard it 6 km away too... the helicopter is gone too. about 9 hours ago via TweetDeck in reply to m0hcin

https://twitter.com/m0hcin/status/64791032579108864
Just talked to family in Abbottabad, say they heard three blasts one after another, don't know what really happened. about 10 hours ago via web

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64793269908930560
@m0hcin the few people online at this time of the night are saying one of the copters was not Pakistani... about 9 hours ago via TweetDeck in reply to m0hcin

https://twitter.com/m0hcin/status/64794837077065728
Seems something nasty happening in #Abbottabad, God save us. about 9 hours ago via web

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64796769418088448
Since taliban (probably) don't have helicpoters, and since they're saying it was not "ours", so must be a complicated situation #abbottabad about 9 hours ago via TweetDeck

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64798882332278785
The abbottabad helicopter/UFO was shot down near the Bilal Town area, and there's report of a flash. People saying it could be a drone. about 9 hours ago via TweetDeck

https://twitter.com/tahirakram/status/64797447821602816
@ReallyVirtual Damn. Unusual. Was it of Pakistan Army? about 9 hours ago via TweetDeck in reply to ReallyVirtual

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64800262354763776
@tahirakram very likely - but it was too noisy to be a spy craft, or, a very poor spy craft it was. about 9 hours ago via TweetDeck

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64892915167657984
@kursed Well, there were at least two copters last night, I heard one but a friend heard two, for 15-20 minutes. about 3 hours ago via TweetDeck in reply to kursed

https://twitter.com/naqvi/status/64883228590350336
i think the helicopter crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the President Obama breaking news address are connected. about 3 hours ago via web Retweeted by ReallyVirtual

https://twitter.com/ReallyVirtual/status/64892915167657984
Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it. about 2 hours ago via TweetDeck



Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20058790-281.html#ixzz1LD0zXP60

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post Op Ed on social media in Pakistan:

“Social media has actually created a dialogue of opposing thoughts and tries to bring them together to some sort of understanding,” said the Teeth Maestro, a 36-year-old whose real name is Awab Alvi.

There’s no revolution in the works like in Egypt, where young people used Facebook, Twitter and other web tools to organize protests.

But the use of such Internet tools is rising so rapidly in Pakistan that even U.S. officials have taken notice, recently co-sponsoring the country’s first international social media summit. Held in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, it attracted some 200 people.

Pakistan, a country of roughly 187 million, has roughly 20 million Internet users. Its penetration rate is a bit higher than neighbor India but a bit lower than fellow Muslim country Indonesia, according to http://www.internetworldstats.com.

There are at least 4.3 million Facebook users in Pakistan, while Twitter is the ninth most popular web site in the country, according to statistics presented Saturday at the summit.

To be sure, plenty of Pakistan’s bloggers promote anti-U.S. conspiracy theories and Islamist, even pro-militant agendas. One group created an alternative to Facebook catering to Muslims, unhappy with what they say was offensive material on the regular site.

The overall numbers are skewed toward wealthier, educated city dwellers, and most of the Pakistani blogosphere is in English, though Urdu-language use is growing, experts said. But although social media lovers don’t represent Pakistan’s masses, they do represent many of “the elite” who hold the levers of power.

In many small ways, Pakistan’s social media activists already have been making their presence felt.

One of the more famous social media users in Pakistan is Sohaib Athar, the man who unknowingly live-tweeted the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May, gaining tens of thousands of new followers and providing witty insight into a stunning news event.

There also have been videos posted on the Internet showing the alleged brutality of the armed forces in Pakistan, outraging civilians and leading to investigations (though rarely with any publicized results). And during nationwide floods in 2010, social media activists helped raise money.

The blogs in particular give Pakistanis a chance to vent, no matter what their philosophy.

Alvi, the dentist, recently posted an entry about the shooting of an unarmed young man by security troops in Karachi. The incident was caught on tape, posted to YouTube and played on television, making him wonder what it would take for the masses to rise up and end such brutalities.

“Could this blatant killing of a young individual (regardless of his innocence or guilt) be the trigger?” he wrote. “Or are we still too occupied at allowing these political and military crooks run our country to smithereens?”

Pakistan’s TV and radio stations remain the dominant force in shaping public discourse, followed by newspapers — especially Urdu-language ones. But employees of mainstream outlets note they still have to worry about some restrictive laws that are less likely to affect social media users.

“We have buildings and offices — we can get burned, we can get bombed,” said Kamal Siddiqi, editor of The Express Tribune newspaper.

He said blogs were a very popular part of his paper’s online edition, a sign of how the mainstream media and the social media are blending.

Pakistani social media activists said they too worry about their security, with some noting wryly that the Internet is also a place for militants to recruit suicide bombers and post tapes of beheadings.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts of an Op Ed by William Martin, US Consul General, published in The Express Tribune:


Perhaps showing the generation gap, I did not know that Pakistan has such a lively and active blogging community, with over three million citizen-journalists freely reporting on virtually every topic under the sun. Pakistan has one of the fastest-growing Facebook and Twitter-using populations in the world, with over four million Facebook users. Remarkably, the per capita internet access in Pakistan is between 10-15 per cent of the total population — more than double that of neighbouring India. Using even the most conservative estimates, 20 million Pakistanis are regularly online, or the equivalent of the population of four Singapores.

Pakistan enjoys tremendous freedom of information and online expression. As a representative of the United States, I am keenly aware of the vibrancy of that free speech every time I log in to my computer or pick up a newspaper. Although a bit bruised sometimes, I welcome it! By amplifying the diversity of voices, social media is making life a richer experience for us all. And this is possible because Pakistanis are using their freedom of expression every day, online. Blogging is reinforcing the backbone of democracy – freedom of speech – a freedom that is enshrined in the US Constitution.

In Pakistan, the freedom of the press was earned over time, through the sacrifices of its people, especially the sacrifices of those in the media community. Journalists and bloggers now play a central role in the effort to institutionalise these hard won freedoms.

We must never forget, the many journalists who have been killed or injured as they sought to report on the challenges facing us today. They take extraordinary risks to enlighten us with the truth. Nobody embodied this commitment more than Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was senselessly murdered trying to pursue this truth. All of us are diminished by his passing. But, there is no doubt that his work will continue and others will pick up the baton and carry on. It is up to each of us to honour his legacy and do all we can to support press freedom as a fundamental right to be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. Blog on.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AP report on CIA mining Facebook, Twitter and other social media:

In an anonymous industrial park, CIA analysts who jokingly call themselves the "ninja librarians" are mining the mass of information people publish about themselves overseas, tracking everything from common public opinion to revolutions.

The group's effort gives the White House a daily snapshot of the world built from tweets, newspaper articles and Facebook updates.

The agency's Open Source Center sometimes looks at 5 million tweets a day. The analysts are also checking out TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that people can access and contribute to openly.

The Associated Press got an apparently unprecedented view of the center's operations, including a tour of the main facility. The AP agreed not to reveal its exact location and to withhold the identities of some who work there because much of the center's work is secret.

From Arabic to Mandarin, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in a native tongue. They cross-reference it with a local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House. There might be a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt....
-------------
The most successful open source analysts, Naquin said, are something like the heroine of the crime novel "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," a quirky, irreverent computer hacker who "knows how to find stuff other people don't know exists."

An analyst with a master's degree in library science and multiple languages, especially one who grew up speaking another language, makes "a powerful open source officer," Naquin said.


http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/ap-exclusive-cia-twitter-facebook-14878904#.TrV4UtSXOSo

Riaz Haq said...

Education News reports concerns about the loss of Urdu script with growth of technology:

In SMS-happy Pakistani, many young people are writing their text messages in using the Latin alphabet, rather than the traditional Urdu script. That has some concerned that the classical script will disappear.

Cell phone users in Pakistan sent an average of 128 text messages each per month in 2009, government figures show.

That was the fifth highest figure among all countries in the world. Fueled by texting, a growing number of Pakistanis are using Latin letters to write Urdu, the national language, instead of using the official Urdu script.

Though the trend is limited, it has left some Urdu purists concerned about what happens if the trend continues.

While it may sound harmless, it has unintended consequences. Because the first generations of mobile phones couldn’t send text messages using Urdu script, Pakistanis improvised and started converting Urdu phrases into the Latin alphabet. Even though Urdu-capable phones are more common now, many people have become used to the Latin script.

Shaista Parween, a math and computer studies teacher, said texting-mad students are just as comfortable writing Urdu in Latin as they are using the regular script. In fact, she said they sometimes do schoolwork using the Latin alphabet.

“I’m facing this a lot in my classes,” Parween said. “Latin Urdu is being used so much, what can we do? We can’t say it’s wrong if they are trying. It’s used so much in the media and television, that’s why.”

Officially Urdu is written in a variation of the Arabic script. But while the use of Latin letters for Urdu has reached high levels, though still a minority, it isn’t the first time it’s been done.

European missionaries and administrators converted Urdu into the Latin script in the 18th century. And in the 1950s, military ruler Ayub Khan proposed officially writing Urdu in Latin letters, just as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had done with Turkish decades earlier. But religious leaders said the Arabic script was an important connection to Pakistan’s Islamic identity, so Ayub abandoned the idea.

But now, tech-savvy kids are doing what a military dictator couldn’t achieve 40-years ago. And many Pakistanis aren’t happy about it.

“Trying to write a language in another script is like trying to drop off your skin and trying to have a new one,” said Rauf Parekh, an assistant professor at the University of Karachi’s Urdu Department.

He’s concerned about the impact this will make on society if people stop learning the Urdu script.

“They will be cut off from their culture, from their tradition, their history, their classical literature. How are they going to enjoy if they cannot read it in the original. So it’s a kind of deprivation on cultural and educational side. They won’t feel it perhaps now, but maybe hundred years from now they will realize what a great loss they have incurred,” he said.

While Parekh bemoans the loss of traditional Pakistani culture, a new kind of “text messaging culture” is emerging. Pakistanis use text messages for just about anything, but especially for passing on political jokes, poetry, quotes and for flirting.
------------
One book is titled “Cool SMS,” another “Love & Love SMS.” Each joke or poem is printed in both the Urdu script and the Latin transliteration.

“It’s been about 10 years that these books have been published now,” shop owner Basharat explained. “There was a lot of demand for them initially. This is because the majority of our population is not educated, so Latin Urdu books were made so that every person can read the books and send SMSs. It made it so much easier.”..


http://educationviews.org/2011/12/21/pakistani-scholars-concerned-that-urdu-script-being-lost-to-technology/

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Al-Arabiya report on Bannu Jail inmates with cell phones & Internet access to Facebook & blogosphere:

A high profile Pakistani prisoner, who escaped on Sunday along with 383 other inmates, was reportedly contributing to several social networking sites including Facebook and blog sites while he was in prison, a report revealed late Monday.

Adnan Rashid was on death row at Bannu Central Prison in northwestern Pakistan for his alleged attempt to assassinate former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2003.

But despite the high profile charges against him, Rashid enjoyed the use of cell phones inside the death cell he was held in, allowing him to keep in touch with several journalists through text messaging, the Pakistan-based Dawn news website reported.

Rashid, a former junior technician of the Pakistan Air Force, was among some 384 prisoners who escaped early Sunday from the jail after an attack by insurgents armed with guns, grenades and rockets, officials said.

The attack, claimed by Pakistan’s Taliban movement, started at around 1:00 a.m. (2000 GMT) and continued for two hours, with militants in cars and pick-up trucks shooting and lobbing grenades to force their way into the prison, a senior security official told AFP news agency.

“We have freed hundreds of our comrades in Bannu in this attack. Several of our people have reached their destinations, others are on their way,” a Taliban spokesman said on Sunday.

Rashid was arrested in early 2004 on charges of the alleged assassination attempt, but had continued to plead his innocence while in prison, claiming “that his only crime was that he had voted ‘No’ in the referendum held by the then military president Gen. Musharraf,” the Dawn reported.

As a prisoner, he was questioned by the media in interviews uploaded on to social networking site Facebook, in which he argued against flaws in laws concerning the Pakistani army, air force and navy, while urging the Supreme Court to intervene in his case and those of others who had been detained with him.

In one letter to the Chief Justice, Rashid claimed that at the time of the assassination attempt, he was on duty in Quetta and was picked up by intelligence personnel.

He had recently sent a text message to a group of recipients, who were not identified by the newspaper, which states: “There are millions of cases pending before high courts and Supreme Court, 99.9 percent of these are actually appeals against verdicts of lower courts. Billions of rupees are being spent on higher civil courts so why not this judicial system is replaced by military courts; these are swift, require no judge, no special courtrooms or bars, and most interesting court martial are unchallengeable so no more need of high and supreme courts. It saves time and money of nation. What do you think? From a court martial convict.”


http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/04/17/208348.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here's NY Times on derogatory film "Innocence of Muslims" mocking Prophet Muhammad:

For Google last week, the decision was clear. An anti-Islamic video that provoked violence worldwide was not hate speech under its rules because it did not specifically incite violence against Muslims, even if it mocked their faith.

The White House was not so sure, and it asked Google to reconsider the determination, a request the company rebuffed.

Although the administration’s request was unusual, for Google, it represented the kind of delicate balancing act that Internet companies confront every day.

These companies, which include communications media like Facebook and Twitter, write their own edicts about what kind of expression is allowed, things as diverse as pointed political criticism, nudity and notions as murky as hate speech. And their employees work around the clock to check when users run afoul of their rules.

Google is not the only Internet company to grapple in recent days with questions involving the anti-Islamic video, which appeared on YouTube, which Google owns. Facebook on Friday confirmed that it had blocked links to the video in Pakistan, where it violates the country’s blasphemy law. A spokeswoman said Facebook had also removed a post that contained a threat to a United States ambassador, after receiving a report from the State Department; Facebook has declined to say in which country the ambassador worked.
-----------
mpany said, “Facebook’s policy prohibits content that threatens or organizes violence, or praises violent organizations.”

Facebook also explicitly prohibits what it calls “hate speech,” which it defines as attacking a person. In addition, it allows users to report content they find objectionable, which Facebook employees then vet. Facebook’s algorithms also pick up certain words that are then sent to human inspectors to review; the company declined to provide details on what kinds of words set off that kind of review. ...


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/technology/on-the-web-a-fine-line-on-free-speech-across-globe.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on free tweeting in Pakistan:

Whenever a country that has a history of internet censorship gains better access to one of the internet’s most important tools, it’s big news.

And that’s exactly what has happened today. Starting today, Pakistan’s largest provider of cellular services has announced that its prepaid customers can tweet away – for free.

“Data charges for accessing Twitter have been made ZERO for all Mobilink prepaid subscribers. Subscribers don’t require to subscribe to this offer since it is available for all prepaid subscribers by default,” says Mobilink.

That means that users can tweet and retweet all they want without incurring any data charges. This removes one of the impediments from Pakistani Twitter users, who have faced state censorship of Twitter in the past.

Back in May of 2012, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority shut off Twitter access for the entire country for approximately 8 hours following the circulation of content deemed blasphemous on the network. Some speculated that the move had less to do with the specific content and more to do with a simple test as to whether a state-wide blockage was feasible.

As far as the rest of the internet goes, the Pakistani government has a history of censorship in the areas of so-called blasphemy and pornography. Recently, that censorship has moved to content that falls in the realm of political speech. In a country with this track record, free access to Twitter is a significant opportunity for its people – considering access remains open.

There are some caveats to the deal. Mainly, tweets must be sent via mobile.twitter.com – not Twitter’s native apps.

Also:

“[G]oing on external links will result in data charging. Whenever a subscriber clicks on an external link, he will be shown a notification indicating that standard data charges apply to view the link. External link will be opened after subscriber’s consent only.”

But for the purposes of simply communicating (being that all-important amateur reporter), this is a great thing for Pakistani tweeters.


http://www.webpronews.com/pakistans-mobiilink-offers-free-tweeting-to-its-customers-2013-04

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report about free Wikipedia access for Mobilink's pre-paid customers:

Mobilink has launched Wikipedia Zero with the aim of providing its customers with free access to the world’s largest general reference database. The source will be available for Mobilink’s prepaid customers who will have free access round the clock to the full mobile version of Wikipedia. Mobilink customers will also be able to view these articles in Urdu on supported handsets.
Farid Ahmad, Vice President Marketing Mobilink commenting on the launch of Wikipedia Zero said, “As Pakistan’s leading mobile internet provider we are proud to partner with the world’s sixth largest website to offer our customers free access to Wikipedia.
We hope that our customers will enjoy browsing through Wikipedia on Pakistan’s fastest mobile data network.’’
The service is available for all new and existing prepaid customers free of cost by accessing Wikipedia at m.wikipedia.org OR zero.wikipedia.org from either their native mobile browser or through Opera Mini.


http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/business/05-Jun-2013/mobilink-brings-wikipedia-zero-to-pakistan

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a WSJ story on how some people are using fake twitter accounts to boost their "followers":

One day earlier this month, Jim Vidmar bought 1,000 fake Twitter accounts for $58 from an online vendor in Pakistan.

He then programmed the accounts to "follow" the Twitter account of rapper Dave Murrell, who calls himself Fyrare and pays Mr. Vidmar to boost his standing on the social network. Mr. Vidmar's fake accounts also rebroadcast Mr. Murrell's tweets, amplifying his Twitter voice.

Mr. Murrell says he sometimes buys Twitter ads to raise his profile, "but you'll get more with Jim." He says many Twitter users try to make their followings look bigger than they are. "If you're not padding your numbers, you're not doing it right," he says. "It's part of the game."

Mr. Vidmar offers a window into the shadowy world of false accounts and computerized robots on Twitter, one of the world's largest social networks. Surrounded by a dozen computers at his home overlooking a golf course near the Las Vegas Strip, Mr. Vidmar has been buying fake accounts and unleashing them on Twitter for six years.

Today, he says he manages 10,000 robots for roughly 50 clients, who pay Mr. Vidmar to make them appear more popular and influential.

His are among millions of fake accounts on Twitter. Mr. Vidmar and other owners manage them to simulate Twitter users: they tweet; retweet, or forward, other tweets; send and reply to messages; and follow and unfollow other Twitter accounts, among other actions.

Some entertainers pay for fake followers. But false accounts can be political tools as well. In 2011, thousands of fake accounts disrupted anti-Kremlin protesters on Twitter.

The fake accounts remain a cloud over Twitter Inc. in the wake of its successful initial public offering. "Twitter is where many people get news," says Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. "If what is trending on Twitter is being faked by robots, people need to know that. This will and should undermine trust."
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Mr. Ding, the Barracuda Labs researcher, says the fake-account market is "going very strong." He and other researchers say Twitter doesn't appear to be applying the Berkeley researchers' techniques to root out other fake accounts.

Mr. Vidmar's robots have helped make his clients "trending topics" on Twitter, giving them special mention on Twitter users' home pages. The trending topics appear just below the "promoted trend" that the company sells for as much as $200,000 a day. The trending topics aren't marked as "sponsored," so they appear more genuine.

Rapper Tony Benson says hiring Mr. Vidmar to promote his account on Twitter is "the best decision I ever made." Mr. Vidmar's robots made the rapper, known as Philly Chase, a trending topic so often around Philadelphia that he attracted attention from local newspapers. Prominence on Twitter led to gigs, fans and ways to promote his videos, Mr. Benson says.

Mr. Vidmar uses software to follow tens of thousands of accounts for his clients, another tactic Twitter prohibits. Being followed prompts many Twitter users to return the favor, and follow his clients.

In September, Mr. Vidmar used software to follow more than 100,000 Twitter users in a week for the Australian rock band The Contagious; that boosted the band's following by 20,000.

The band has a "verified" account, meaning it has taken extra steps to prove to Twitter that the account is real.


http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304607104579212122084821400

Riaz Haq said...

KARACHI: Apple implemented the Urdu language keyboard across mobile devices in its iOS 8 update in mid-September. But persistence of a few Urdu speakers has now forced the IT giant to consider adopting the native typeface of Urdu language, Nastaleeq, along with the current Naskh font.
The Cupertino-based company had launched iOS 8 on September 17 in what was termed their biggest software update to date, boasting a whole host of features for those using modern Apple mobile devices. Hidden among those upgrades was the implementation of the Urdu keyboard across the system. This enables users of Apple’s popular iPhone, iTouch and iPad devices to type in Urdu while using texts, email, social media and other interaction. This functionality was previously available only through language-specific apps such as Urdu Writer.
The downside for some in this new feature, though, is that it follows the Naskh typeface derived from Arabic Unicode, rather than Nastaleeq. This prompted the creator of Urdu Writer, Mudassir Azeemi, to start a social media campaign. In writing a letter, emailing and tweeting to the CEO of Apple CEO, Tim Cook, Azeemi urged, explained, even pleaded about how easy it would be to implement the Nastaleeq typeface for the Urdu keyboard in iOS 8.
The effort paid part dividend when on October 13, Azeemi got a phone call from Cook’s representatives. Azeemi was initially fretting whether there are lawyers on the other end with a cease and desist notice over his campaign. Instead, the representative assured him that Apple will consider implementing the typeface.

The road thus far
Azeemi, a Pakistani who works out of San Francisco, says the roots of his campaign germinated well before his email to Cook on October 5, and subsequent snail-mail on October 8.
“When my daughter was growing up, I saw that she was learning alphabet through YouTube,” the app and user experience designer tells The Express Tribune. Hoping that his child could use technology to learn about her heritage and the Urdu language, Azeemi started work on building an app about Urdu.
“We started wondering if we can implement it on iOS. We then designed an entire keyboard for Urdu Writer in 2010.”
Urdu Writer met with great success as it allowed people to type in Urdu and share their writing through email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter. Most importantly, Urdu Writer allowed users to access the Nastaleeq font.
Why Nastaleeq?
Nastaleeq is a Perso-Arabic script. It is the preferred writing script for Persian Kashmiri and Punjabi – languages which contributed in the creation of Urdu.
“We asked around and a lot of people said that they could not read Naskh,” Azeemi says before explaining that readability of Urdu is better in Nastaleeq rather than in other members of the font family, including the widely implemented Naskh, or the lesser used Kufic font.
This was echoed by Ahsan Saeed, who divides time as an Urdu localization moderator for Twitter and his day job at a digital agency. “People used to tell me that Twitter should have the Nastaleeq font.”
Saeed says that his own mother, too used to the Nastaleeq font, can’t read Urdu posts on Facebook or Twitter because they are in the Naskh typeface, but can read Urdu newspapers in the Nastaleeq font online.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/776214/e-urdu-how-one-mans-plea-for-nastaleeq-was-heard-by-apple/