Monday, August 31, 2015

Think You're So Clever, Wikipedia? Russian Censors Are Blocking You Anyway

Despite Wikipedia's attempts to circumvent Russian censorship, the Kremlin seems intent on blocking the website. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Russia's Internet watchdog is apparently not impressed with Wikipedia's attempts to combat censorship. On Saturday, August 22, Wikipedia made a daring move to avoid taking down content at the request of the censors—but now, it seems, the website is bound for a ban despite the cunning loophole.

On August 20 Roskomnadzor, the Kremlin's media censor, announced that it had ordered Wikipedia to remove Russian Internet users’ access to an article about charas hashish, which a court in Astrakhan banned last June. If Wikipedia refused to comply with the order, it would be banned entirely, officials said. Wikipedia refused to comply with the request and instead made a small change to the URL of the charas hashish article, technically putting it in compliance with Russian law. The old page now features a list of seven different Wikipedia entries on the various meanings of the word “charas,” while the original text about charas hashish is completely intact, but is now accessible at a new URL on the encyclopedia's website.

On Monday, August 24, Izvestia reported that Roscomnadzor was still intent on blocking Wikipedia (see update at bottom of post) for refusing to abide by Russian laws and not deleting the Russian-language article about charas hashish.

According to Izvestia‘s sources within the agency, some Internet experts, including Denis Davydov of the pro-Kremlin Safe Internet League, accused Wikipedia's Russian office of engaging in “political activity” instead of “bringing knowledge to the world,” as a “free encyclopedia” should. Roscomnadzor suggested this gave them no other choice but to block Wikipedia, acting in accordance with the earlier court ruling.

Roscomnadzor's press-office also said they didn't intend to block the whole website, and would be able to only block the offending content and pages, provided Wikipedia's management “cooperated” and removed the HTTPS encryption protocol that puts the whole website in danger of being blocked.

Wikipedia's Russian office reacted to the news on Twitter early on Monday.
Good morning, country! This might well be our last morning with you!
Wikipedia stood by its decision to not take down the article, which it claims to have revised in accordance with the website’s internal quality standards (with information “based on credible sources”). Izvestia also cites Wikipedia as saying they do not plan to remove the HTTPS encryption protocol from the website, since “no state institutions or ISPs should have the means to know what the website's users are reading.”

Vladimir Medeyko, head of Wikimedia RU, told Izvestia that should the website be blocked, the RuNet users will still be able to access the online encyclopedia, as “there are lots of ways to read blocked websites.”
If the state [Russia] blocks Wikipedia, it will only make things worse for itself.
News about Russian censors adding pages from websites like YouTube and Wikipedia to the country's Internet blacklist are now an almost daily occurrence, so it's probably safe to say that websites will continue to come up with interesting ways of circumventing censorship and remaining accessible to Russians—and Roscomnadzor will keep trying to find new pretexts to block them.

Update (8:26 PM GMT, August 24, 2015): Roscomnadzor has officially added the Wikipedia URL for the charas article to its banned websites registry. Wikipedia responded by publishing a page with instructions on how to circumvent the block and said it would be allowing Russian-language administrators and reviewers to edit the website using anonymizing proxy services and Tor.

Monday, August 3, 2015

This Is What Happens When You Give Power to the ‘Chicas’

Chicas Poderosas Conference in Miami, Florida. Photo: Chicas Poderosas.

“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)”.

This African proverb has helped guide the work of Mariana Santos, the founder of Chicas Poderosas, a group trying to increase the number of Hispanic-American women working directly with newsroom technology. Santos knows what challenges women face in this male-dominated industry. Even in the digital age, women journalists in Latin America work at a systematic disadvantage.

Santos is a Portuguese visual designer who has worked for The Guardian, and is currently the director of “interactive and animation” at Fusion. She says digital-media training is still limited and there are still too few programs focused on women, which keeps them underrepresented in the world of technology journalism.

In 2013, thanks to a fellowship at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)Santos created Chicas Poderosas to help change things in the industry. Staging events and meet-ups, and offering mentoring, Chicas helps women develop news applications, produce interactive content, and integrate new tools into their newsrooms, according to the group's website.

The most recent Chicas Poderosas conference was held at Stanford University last June, where 35 women journalists and developers from Latin America met for roughly four days.

Santos summarized the event as “all the best experiences, classes, [and] people I met during my nine months as a JSK fellow.”

Elisa Tinsley, deputy vice president of programs at the International Center for Journalists, wrote about it in the ICFJ blog:
"The ultimate goal of the Summit and of Santos’ Chicas Poderosas movement is to help women take the lead in newsroom technology and design as a way to bring women's voices into both newsrooms and the content newsrooms generate."
After the Stanford event, Dow Jones was the first to create Chicas Poderosas fellowships—sending two Latin American women journalists to newsrooms specialized in digital storytelling.

Maria Paula Martinez, from Colombia’s Universidad de Los Andes went to NPR. She expressed her enthusiasm on Twitter:

And Mariana Barbosa, a former La Nacion Argentina student and journalist, went to ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest:
For more information about how to get involved in Chica Poderosa, visit its website.