Bring The Girls Back

nigerian girls

The kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls has caused outrage across the world, and thousands of websites have articles about this event. The articles are illustrated by photos of the girls, or of girls anyway, and it is the use of these photos that I want to address today.

If you do a search on the story you find many many photos, and many different stories. But the truth about these photos is that many of them are not photos of the girls in this school. Now we might say oh yes the photos are just to make the post look nice, for effect, an African school child crying to help the cause. But I think we should go further than this, they are real people and they are being exploited, it is misrepresentation.

If we start with this article from the New York Times we read an interview with a photographer who took some of the pictures that have “gone viral” in the publicity surrounding the Nigeria girls. The photographs were used for the Bring Back our Girls twitter campaign, and I am not for any moment suggesting that the campaign has anything but good motives, but the people in the photos have nothing to do with the school, the girls or even Nigeria.

The girls live in Guinea-Bissau, which is like using a school girl from London to show the degradation of inner city Milan. It is misrepresentation. These girls have families and lives of their own, suddenly they represent the horror of kidnapping and possibly slavery or forced marriage, how would you like it if it was your daughter or sister (or mum, the photos could be old)?

And also the misrepresentation goes further. The author of the images did not want to show these horrors, she wanted to show the beauty of the child, or many other aspects of the composition. She finds her photo used to depict something that it was never meant to be, and with the possible addition of a few ‘photoshopped’ tears anything is possible.

If we go to the Facebook page of the same organization we find a series of schoolgirl photos, but they are all very different. In one we see a group of girls in Muslim dress in a poor rural school, but in the next we see a well cared for classroom with a shelf full of DVD’s Christmas decorations and girls dressed in school uniforms. Which one really represents the realities that these girls live in?

If we go to this Nigerian site we see another group of once again differently dressed girls and women in a much less rural setting that that depicted in the only photo from the Facebook page that contains any information at all, a photo of the school sign that the girls were taken from. My understanding of this area of Nigeria leads me to assume that this is a completely false depiction too, just another group of girls (possibly) walking to school somewhere (maybe) in Nigeria.
And I don’t want to go on but the list is endless, hundreds of photos of African schoolgirls.

Now I don’t want to come across as too critical here, I am a blogger and writer myself as you know and I put images into my stories. I am sure NASA would not be too pleased if some jumped up blogger was using on of their images to demonstrate the problem of space junk, but is that the same as using photos of real people doing things that really are not related to the story in question, particularly when the story is as terrible as this one? I am sure that all of the people that have written these stories have done so for the right reasons, we all want to get the girls back, and the Internet is our means, but we must try not to do it at the expense of falsely depicting others.

I have another post here you might like to read about mistaken identity through the circulation of a photo via digital media, the story contains many similarities.

Writing frequency

Today I pose a question: is it possible to blog on a daily basis?

It is easy to ‘scrape’ content on a daily basis, but can you write and publish a really good post every day? Jonny seems to have publishing weekly down to a tee, every week we get something new and thought provoking. 4 to 5 posts each month, every month.

I have a more erratic style of publishing, 2 posts in January, 5 in December, 1 in November, 3 in October, 5 in September, none in August – you get the picture.

I like to spend a lot of time on articles. I usually do a lot of research and background reading to try and put together an interesting, factually sound piece of work. I am a little bit of a perfectionist, which is sometimes really good, but it can be annoying. If I care about something, I like to put a lot of work into it. I care for this blog, so I want every post to be really good. Not every post I publish has or will be really good. I need to face the facts.

So, I as I am writing this I am setting myself a challenge. Write an article at least once a week and hit publish. No faffing around, just write a post and publish it every Monday.

A blog needs posts. I need to be consistent.

See you next Monday.

Over and out.

How Much Freedom Does the Internet Bring You?

On the surface Internet living seems to bring a great deal of freedom to many different parties. Last month for example I posted from the USA, Italy and the UK, we can work from home, buy direct and have access to all kinds of information.

This might make us feel that the web itself creates freedom, or that it is free to operate as we wish. I am not so sure that this is the whole story however, and others agree.

How much freedom of speech really exists?

How much freedom of speech really exists?

Last week Security technologist Bruce Schneier gave a talk as part of the TEDx Cambridge series. Schneider is very interested in security and perceptions of security as this previous TED video shows, but last week’s talk was different.

He took the problem of Internet freedom as his topic, and raised some very interesting arguments. The following quotes are taken from his speech as reported on our local Boston.com website:

“Which type of power dominates the coming decades? Right now it looks like traditional power. It’s much easier for the NSA to spy on everyone than it is for anyone to maintain privacy. China has an easier time blocking content than its citizens have getting around those blocks.”

We can see that there is some evidence to support this case, if we look at this article that appeared in the Huffington Post a couple of years ago. It recounts the tale of Google pulling out of China because they no longer wanted to censor their searches. Google chose to redirect users to their non censored search engine based in Hong Kong. The Chinese government managed to block the results anyway, so users were left in the same position as before, no access to the information.

If we take a broader look though we find that it is not just China but other countries that are making repeated requests for Google to censor their content. CNN report the revelations of the recent Google Transparency report, where Canada, France, the UK and the USA feature strongly in the league of requested censorship. The report is here, easy to follow and a 5 minute thumb through might change your ideas regarding freedom and regulation on the web.

Just yesterday Linkedin announced that they challenging the US government over data requests. US organizations are allowed to publish the total number of data requests, but cannot break the figure down to reveal the number made by security services. Linkedin say this legal situation makes no sense, and many other companies agree. Read about it here.

“Cyber criminals can rob more people more quickly than real-world criminals, digital pirates can make more copies of more movies more quickly than their analog ancestors. And we’ll see it in the future. 3D printers mean control debates are soon going to involve guns and not movies.”

Just this week The Independent ran a story about Europe’s criminal intelligence agency that is fighting unprecedented levels of crime across several fronts as gangs capitalise on new technology. We are not talking about a few individuals hacking into the odd bank account here and there, we are looking at the new form of organized crime. A multi billion dollar industry in Europe alone.

The gun reference is of course to the distribution of plans for a 3D printer manufactured gun. Read about it here.

Caution in cases of political dissent

Caution in cases of political dissent

Much has been written about how Facebook and other interfaces have the power to democratize society, and their potential to promote revolution. The so-called Arab Spring is often given as an example, but as well as dissidents using Facebook to organize protests, the Syrian and other governments also used Facebook to identify and arrest dissidents.

There are plenty of examples. Here is an article about 3 Moroccan activists who were arrested for their comments criticizing governments at that time. One used a Wikileaks type platform, another Facebook and the third Youtube. They were all arrested and charged with various and sometimes unrelated crimes.

I wonder where they are now?

My First Year as a Technology Blogger

Last week was my blogger birthday, on Friday I was one year old. Once I had decided to start writing I had to look for a place to publish. As always I started with Google.

I wanted to write about innovation and technology but from the particular point of view of ethics and responsibility, so I chose my list of search terms. Technology had to be in there, as did blog or blogger, maybe science too, so in they all went.

Several blogs came out, Technology Blogs being the first, followed by Technology Bloggers, a relatively new website in those days. I had a look at the content and the rules of engagement and decided that I should try with them.

And here was my first lesson. I found this blog because of its name. I had never even been on a blog let alone post a comment, so Tech Crunch, Technocrati and the others were not in my vocabulary, nor my search terms. If you want people to find your blog you should choose the name well.

Author Jonny Hankins

Here I am (without make-up)

As I said I was new to the business, I had never used WordPress and never posted anything. Although I had published on the net I had never done it myself, the Foundation that employs me has a Webmaster so I was never allowed to touch the controls myself.

This factor was not a problem in my first posts. I managed to get the body of the text uploaded and Christopher from Admin did the rest. After a couple of months the very same Christopher asked me if I would like to apply for author status. What this means to the uninitiated is you get your hands on the controls.

It took several attempts I might add to get a grasp of them. One problem is the language, norms and technicalities. Tags, links in the piece, correctly titled and opening in new windows, pictures with the right links, excerpts and categories to decide and formulate.

Fortunately Christopher is a patient and gallant man, so one error at a time and over a period of a couple of months I made less and less mistakes, and now I can do it myself.

I really enjoyed my first posts, I started with the problems created by improvements in prosthetic limb technology, they might actually be better than the natural version.

A rather ironic post followed about US immigration and then I got down to some serious and regular writing.

4 months after my first post Christopher suggested the possibility of writing a series, so I opted for a 6 week long series about the health of the planet. At this point I began to triangulate my blog writing with my work and include links to several articles that were posted on my work site. I also produced an Issuu booklet using both my work and the Technology Bloggers logos.

I have continued to link my different communication forms together as it seems advantageous to all concerned. My work website benefits from readers that follow the links here and likewise in reverse. I have also written a few articles for an innovation blog called Innovation Excellence, and although the topics are different they are related enough to allow links to the other portals, and again all benefit.

The series took a lot of work, but once it was finished I did not want to fall out of the weekly routine so I continued to write every week. My posts have in general got shorter, partly through necessity but also through choice. I can cover a lot of different subject matter and ask questions in a few hundred words that I would have wound into much more complex pieces a few months ago.

Comments are the thing that make blogging so interesting a pastime. I always try to reply to as many as possible. Sometimes though I write something that receives very few comments and this disappoints me. They are often posts that refer to complex debates however and not easy to comment on, given the format of the comment system.

This is my 39th article for technology Bloggers, a fair body of work if put together and an enjoyable project. If anyone reading this is thinking or has ever thought about writing I would personally urge you on. It is very satisfying when someone takes the time to read your production and comment upon it.

Roll on another year and thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment, and to Christopher for the patience, encouragement and expertise.