Results tagged “politics”

The radical politics of Peanuts

Franklin's second appearance in Peanuts

What happened when Peanuts introduced a black kid?

I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin—he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”

A fascinating story of how one woman persuaded Charles Schultz to add a black kid to the classic comic series, that shows how much difference even a small artistic stand can have on starting to reshape cultures.

What would today's equivalent be?

[via Kottke]

A panel discussion on the Freedom of Information Act after 10 years, held at City University, London.

The FOI at 10 panel at City University

As Chair Roy Greenslade points out, we're meeting in the shadow of Press Gazette being told that they should no longer make FOI requests to the Met Police, because they are being "vexatious".

The Journalists

Professor Heather Brooke was surprised that the public records she was used to using in the US just weren't available in the UK. It slowly dawned on her that they had other ways of getting the information - some legitimate and some less so. It's an advantage to any democracy to give the public access to information. The information is collected for us, so we should have access to the fruits of our taxes.

The police really are behind the ball in adapting to the information age. They're still very much of the "we'll tell you what you need to know' mindset. There's been progress over the last 10 years - but not everywhere.

Martin Rosenbaum wants to defend the UK now. The US system is even slower than the UK's FOI process. Roy counters with the idea that more is freely available in the US, compared to here. How would Martin score us now? 5/10. It's been the same for years, but initially it was poor bodies and excellent bodies - and now we're moving to more of an average.

We haven't got everything we want. We don't get the sort of internal communications we hoped to see, for example. We've also seen some bodies - like the police - become less reliable and efficient than they were. Some have gone the other way - like the Department of Health.

Tom Felle thinks that the Irish FOI came about because of the amount of corruption that was seen in the country. It worked so well that the government have neutered it. Looking globally, he's seen two versions of FOI. There's the public access to information that effects them, and that's good. But Britain invented official secrets and public bodies needed to become more open. But anything that people at a senior level can delay, deny or slow down, they will. After 10 years, the culture has not changed. In countries with FOI for decades - the culture at that level does not change.

The FOI Commissioner

Chris Graham, FOI Commissioner

Chris Graham, FOI Commissioner considers himself a "glass half-full" man - and 5/10 is half full. We're seeing many more datasets freely published than ever before, from MOT failure rates, to senior civil servants' salaries. It's not on to say that all local authorities have to do is say no. Already this year there have been 1000 decision notices from his office, and many are dealt within three month and six month time periods. Remember that these are the most controversial issues.

It's working and it's working well - but you have to keep pushing. He could do with more resources to police the act. If authorities were more nervous of his office getting to them, they'd have less motivation to game the system. He'd rather report directly to Parliament, rather than being a subset of the Ministry of Justice - because that's got a lot of other things to deal with.

His headcount nudges 400, split between data protection and freedom of information.

Martin: Chris has achieved something very important: the speeding up of the appeals system. Delay is not as bad as it was previously. There was one complaint that Martin made that took four years to process! But there's still a lot of delay within the system. If someone had said at the beginning that 92% of appeals were dealt with in six months, they would not have been happy. These are often the important, urgent ones. In practice, the authorities ignore the "promptness" requirement, and just look at the ultimate deadlines.

We need a culture change - that's in accordance with the legislation – to make FOI prompt.

Lazy Journalism?

Are journalists getting lazy because they just slam in FOIs? Sure, says Tom. Biscuit FOIs you see in local journalism don't add to our understanding of local government. But he doesn't have sympathy with local government who claim that they're overwhelmed with requests. We should have a culture where many of those request never hog to FOI - they're just answered by the press office.

The media and public bodies should come together more to discuss this issues. If they government bodies could be persuaded to publish more online routinely, there would be less need for requests. And too many authorities are forcing people to go through FOI when it shouldn't be needed. They're just not afraid enough of Chris's office, in the same way they are over data protection. Local authorities can quote chapter and verse on data protection, but roll their eyes at FOI. They see it as something extra - which is bizarre. They work for us - that's their job.

Chris counters with a list of the enforcement action they can take against recalcitrant bodies. He was taxed on Newsnight about it. The Department of Education was pushed into special measures, for example, and had answered Newsnight's request satisfactorily as a result. The Department of Transport didn't want to publish the HS2 study - and that's being fought through the courts right now.

There are exemptions for the Queen, and the two heirs to the throne - but that's it.

Heather Brooke and Tom Felle

Heather suggests that no lazy journalist will make an FOI request - because it takes so much work. That's why she teaches it to students interested in long-form investigations. It's a form of civic teaching, as we try to figure out how these bureaucracies work.

It's so short-sighted for local authorities to be hostile. This is a legitimate way of releasing information - that goes through a safe-guarding process. Without it, stories still come up, but in an unregulated, illegitimate way. Stories come with a spin, because they're leaked - and leaked with an agenda.

Time for an extension of FOI?

Roy asks if FOI should be extended to new bodies?

Chris: What do we do about services delivered on behalf of the public by private contractors or suppliers? There are services which were part of FOI and now aren't, because they've been contracted out.

There's work being done on model contract clauses to adreess that. Companies seem to be quite keen to play by the rules - as long as they know what the rules are. It's good to see Network Rail being broughti into FOI.

Centres of FOI Impunity

Heather wants to know about enforcement - there seem to be centres of impunity developing - the Met Police, the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Justice.

Chris: Why do you say the Met? I saw Roy's story - is that coming my way? They might like to think they can act with impunity, but they can't. We've made them publish information again and again. It took a year to get the Cabinet Office to incorporate our guidance. Using your Gmail account is a bloody silly thing to do - it's not secure - but it won't allow you to escape FOI any more.

Martin: In some cases ICO monitoring has improved FOI performance - including the BBC. But there's no evidence that the Cabinet Office has responded in the same way. They should be setting a good example, and they're setting the worst possible example.

Chris: To be fair to them, they have to decide how to deal with the papers of the previous administration in power, and have to go to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It's not a surprise the most senior bodies take longer - they're dealing with the knottiest issues.

Tom: I'm not sure I agree. They've had ten years to absorb some sense of responsibility. Government often claims that they have terrible decisions to make, and we'd understand if only we saw - but they won't tell us what they are. It's time for the Cabinet Office to start treating the public with respect.

The City University / Media Society FOI at 10 event

Governments pushing back against FOI

Chris: You can't accuse this government of not being in favour of open data. They've published a lot of it. But there are arguments for and against publication to be discussed - and it's the tricky ones that take time and come to the Information Commissioner. We're hearing about how wonderful Ireland is - but you have to pay there. We don't have fees, and you do have them in other countries. Around the world governments are getting fed up with this, and pushing back. In Australia, they've just snatched back FOI in a coup.

Roy: You get away with it in Australia, because it's not a mass interest concern. It's only journalists…

Heather: I believe it's campaigners, actually.

Tom: Journalists are only 1 in 10 of the requests - but they're the difficult ones that people don't want to answer.

Should data protection and FOI be seperated?

Chris: It's very useful to have one office to make both decisions: very often there's a data protection angle of FOI. If you split them, one decisions becomes tow, and you'll end up in the courts to resolve them.

Roy: Ironically, one of the biggest users of data protection are newspaper publishers.

Chris: The one thing everyone "knows" about data protection - that you can't tell anything - is wrong.

Best uses of FOI?

  • Heather's work on the MP's expense scandal
  • Access to inspection results on old people's homes
  • Tom's revelation of Bertie Ahern's expenditure on make-up
  • Failure rates of models of cars at MOT
  • The FOI Directory account and website are worth tracking
  • David Higgerson blogs about FOI successes

But Chris is keen to see the end of the "having a laugh" sort of FOI request from journalists - like contingency plans for dragon attacks - because every single one of them builds the case that authorities will make to stop doing FOI requests - or to do away with it entirely.

Tom suggests that "commercial sensitivity" is being over-used as a reason for redactions of disclosures. Martin adds that redaction is just a form of partial refusal and can be appealed through the system. Chris points out that there are genuine reasons for reductions - including protecting the identity or personal information of uninvolved people which are in the documents.

Heather has always been annoyed that politicians get to decide what is a worthy request and hat isn't. It's becoming an anti-FOI witch hunt. The solution is just to routinely publish more non-sensitive information. It's odd that bodies claim that they don't have time to answer FOI requests but they spew out information no-one wants all the time. The ration of Thames Valley Police press officers to FOI officers was 27 to 1...

Charlie Hebdo - LePen

There's been a growing consensus online that Charlie Hebdo is a "racist" magazine. In fact, I've ended up in a couple of online skirmishes with people because of their insistence that use of #jesuischarlie was tantamount to identifying positively with racists. I had issues with that view - because, as The Guardian put rather succinctly - you don't have to celebrate what someone says to stand up for their right to say it.

The problem with many of those arguments, and they have been legion in the last few days, is that they were based on cherry-picking a tiny handful of cartoons from the thousands published every year in the publication, with no exploration of the cultural tradition of satire in France, nor the prevailing politics of the magazine itself.

This, I think, has been the best counter to that line of thought I've seen, written by a (self-proclaimed) militant left-wing Frenchman:

It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece). Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza. Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic.

On Charlie Hebdo: a letter to my English friends

Êtes-vous Charlie?

Alan Patrick:

One can actually measure just how much any media outlet is "je suis" Charlie. There is an arcane part of game theory that looks at the actions people take to prove how strongly they support a proposition, idea or movement. The wording changes for these actions, they were called "tells" in my day (before poker grabbed the term) so I will use "tells". In general a strong "tell" is when someone gives something significant of themself (time, money, effort), or puts something of theirs at risk to back a position. A weak tell is when they will put very little of their assets or themselves at any risk.

Take three guesses wether most support is a strong tell. No, actually, take one guess. It's all you need.

A LeWeb session on drones, curated by Mr Robert Scoble.

Robert Scoble

Scoble & Loic

Robert loosely puts drones in three categories:

  • Toys - and other things you'll chase your cat with
  • Professional drones - made to carry cameras and other payloads.
  • B2B drones - soil analysers for farmers, architectural drones…

What Amazon's doing is interesting - but I don't think that people will be delivering things to your home with then any time soon. They're dangerous, and they will be regulated.

Edwin Van Ruymbeke, Bionic Bird

Bionic bird

Birds are light - and making a functional bionic bird required waiting until the weight of motors came down to make it feasible to fly. They're using the sorts of motors that allow phones to vibrate. And in the meantime, computer power and metals have got cheaper and lighter.

The Bionic Bird's charger is an egg. You charge the egg, and the bird recharges from that.

€100 for the Bionic Bird - and you can order it now.

Christian Sanz, Skycatch


The Skycatch drone is designed to be used continuously, with a "landing station" that the drop homes in on, switches the battery pack (which also holds the storage) and gets back in their air. The "tractor" beam is a microwave signal that guides the drone back.

This is useful for monitoring construction sites, for example, allowing them to speed up construction. They work like Uber - you identify the area you want done, and three hours later you get a map.

A lot of early autopilots were designed for hobbyists, who did;t mind rebuilding drones that much. For a commercial business they have to be much better - they use a lot of noise detection to double check directions.

It costs $1000s to lease one per month, along with the fully autonomous ground station. Their biggest data is in acquiring data for people, though.

Henri Seyoux, Parrot

Parrot bebop

The Parrot Bebop is not really a drone - it's poetry. When you are a child, you like video games where you can be a hero. In real life, not so much. But can we bring you something like that?

It's fun and easy to fly, with an unique camera. It's designed to work with your smartphone or tablet. It has no moving parts, and can shoot HD images. And you can now use it as VR. It's officially a toy, and while it might hurt you when it hits you, it won't cut you.

Eric Cheng, DJI

Dji inspire 1

The DJI Inspire 1 is essentially a flying camera. It has indoor stabilisation, an integrated camera which shoots 4k, and wireless streaming of HD video. The problem with using land cameras on drones is that you can't control them in the air the way you can a specially designed one.

It shifts configuration in the air, and shows remarkable video stability in the air, even when swinging around. It can fly at up to around 50mph. Without GPS you can get up to 70mph - but you have to be a very competent pilot to make that work.

They use propriety Lightbridge wireless tech to talk to the drones, so your smartphone retains full connectivity to the cloud.


IN the US you can fly up to 400 feet - and they're banned in national parks. Parrot works within the guidelines for toys - which are rigorous and stop the drones becomes too dangerous. They're light, with flexible blades. In Switzerland, for example, you can fly them pretty much anywhere.

They need to regulated and treated like any tool. A hammer is a very dangerous weapon, but most people have one. Users need to be aware of flight space - flying one into an airport will be a big problem.

There are three issues here:

  • Regulation
  • Innovation
  • Safety

Some countries are very heavily regulated - you need to be a pilot to fly any size of drone, for example. Some safety issues can be addressed in software - but there's open source software that will allow you to circumvent those sort of safety protections. We need a standard protocol for communicating with drones.

A lot of drones are vulnerable to weather. DJIs drones have sensors that will ground the fleet in dangerous weather conditions. Everyone wants reasonable, risk-based legislations. Everyone's taking steps towards that, but it's taking time.

People are working on "following" drone, where they'll follow a person or object with a device attached to them. It's a big challenge right now - it's too easy for the probe to end up following into a tree.

Matthias Lüfkens

Liveblogged notes from Matthias Lüfkens' talk at LeWeb 2014

There are now hundreds of accounts of political leaders and foreign ministers on Twitter. Very few world leaders actually do the tweeting themselves. Those that do are normally in northern Europe, on the shores of the Baltic Sea - the Estonian President, and the Finnish Prime Minister, for example. The president of Malaysia is very good at selfies - which are far more engaging than the traditional handshake shots:

Foreign ministers - in Europe in particular - will use Twitter to make concessions. They @reply each other, they follow each other, and it appears that they direct message each other. Laurent Fabius is the best connected minister at the moment - but it's his team doing it. Kudos to them, as they're reaching out to other leaders.

In the last year we've seen the rise of Twitter diplomacy - people attempting to use Twitter to gain influence. It's becoming a digital battleground. How did the Russians respond to western allies using #unitedforukraine? They co-opted the hashtag.

In September things turned belligerent with NATO tweeting pictures of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, with a mocking response from Russian accounts. #RussiainvededUkraine led to the most retweeted tweet from the Ukraine government.

Some of the behaviour is trolling. Thomas Hendrik Ilves gets heavy trolling. The Latvian foreign minster came out on Twitter:

Most response were supportive, but one Russian one mocked. We've come perilously close to declarations of war on Twitter - and we're clearly seeing political posturing.

The age of Twitter diplomacy is here.

Further reading

You can follow Matthias's digital diplomacy work on Twitter:

Matthias himself:

Burston-Marstler has a Twiplomacy site

Tim Berners-Lee at LeWeb

Tim Berners-Lee invented the web. Staggering as it might seem, one person is responsible for the whole industry that has arisen around his technology. When did he know he had created something special? For the first three years there were ten times the number of hits on his web server every month compared to the last month. There was no magic point where it stopped or started - it was growing logarithmically. And we're still not there. Only a minority of the planet has access still.

Why did he create the web? To solve communications problems at CERN. All their computers had their own operating systems and their own documentation systems. There was a huge heterogeneity of systems, and to find information you had to go from computer to computer. He thought it would be neat to build something that his team could use to share information - and which a student could use when they came in, and solved a problem, They could leave that solution woven into the web. When they went away the information would stay. Most people just read the web - when it becomes a read/write mechanism, when you blog, when you edit Wikipedia, it becomes interesting.

HTML was designed to look like STML. HTTP was designed to look like STMP - so engineers could recognise it and implement it. If he'd started from scratch, he might have done it differently - but that's not the way things work.

Native apps are boring. Like paper.

loic Le Meur and Tim Berners-Lee at LeWeb

When you design a platform without an attitude about what's carried on it, you see these explosions, as you did with the internet, and then the web. If you just take your magazine and put it into an app, it's boring. You lose my passion, my enthusiasm, and my tweets. You lose the clicks. Every piece in a web app has an URL - we can link to it, it can become part of the discussion. If it's a native app - it's boring. It's like paper. Sometimes they do it right - even in native apps - with an URL for everything.

There's a huge amount of frustration out there in people who have put a huge amount of information into a social network, that they can't take with them elsewhere. If you've set up all your friends in Flickr, you can't take that to Facebook. These silos are a problem. It's back to the days of AOL and Prodigy. When Berners-Lee talked with Mark Zuckerberg they discussed the need for the data in Facebook to be available elsewhere. There are new companies emerging who will help you store you own data and share it where you want. We have to insist on net neutrality.

Laws should protect digital privacy

Should we consider privacy dead? No. When people work in groups, those groups work by exchanging information amongst itself, and nobody else. If you don't respect that right within a family, you don't respect the family. It's very silly to say that privacy is over. Cyberwar is no way to run a planet. We should have the rule of law. If people access my health data to change my insurance premiums, we need to say "no, that's illegal". I prefer a world where you say, "If I'm going to employ people, I'm not going to look at their childhood social media activity." We are building this world. Yes, we should build encryption into systems, but not because we can't change laws, or the way companies operate.

The right to access history is important. The right to be forgotten is important - if the fact you want forgotten if false. But if it's true, well, you shouldn't have the right. Here's the move we have to make: we need to move from "you can't talk about this" to "you're not allowed to use juvenile crime, or crime committed over ten years ago, when you're deciding to employ him." Rules about how we use data are more important than trying to pretend things didn't happen.

We should teach everyone about coding. Not about using Microsoft Office - but about coding. Then, when they grow up and start making laws, they will understand what computers can do, not just what Office can do.

The robots are here

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Artificial intelligence is coming. AI has been nailing things for decades - but once we solve a problem, we stop calling it AI. There is a mysticism out there that a stream of consciousness will be hard to do because it incorporates the "soul", but I have a horrible feeling is that it'll just be a few lines of code on top of what we already have.

He read a lot of Asimov when he was young: the Foundation Trilogy, the Robot series. When computers get the rights of human beings, it's time to pay attention. It's already happened. Fast trading companies are run by computers - and companies are giving the rights of humans under US law.

The robots are already here - and they're corporations. And you should be very, very scared.

He's paid by MIT, and his day job is director of the W3C. He tries to look at the future to make sure things hang together - and to think about what will replace the current architecture. He's also part of the Web Foundation, which tries to make sure the web serves people. He spends a lot of time pushing for open data - if you're in Government, you data should be open.

Pushing into the pixel future

Why does he keep moving forwards given all that he's done? Because we're still so not done yet. He wants his data in open standards on computers he controls - and to be able to share that with the people he wants to. This is so important in healthcare. He wants open, linked data. We have lots of content on the web - but we'll never stop fighting for it to be open. You'd be philosophically incorrect to imagine that this will ever stop. We're seeing the web moving from static documents, which is valuable, to the point where ever webpage can be programmed, and can talk to each other without going back to the server.

Over the next 25 years we'll start exporting that. Our devices will get better. Maybe one LeWeb we'll just cover the auditorium with pixels. Soon there will be pixels everywhere that are smaller than you can see, and you'll be able to access the web everywhere.

Think of the societal implications of what you build. Think at how the web can be better at breaking down barriers. Social networks could introduce you to similar people - in a different country, or a different language.

Age of Twitter accounts in #gamergate

I thought that yesterday's brief post on #gamergate would be all I had to say on the subject - but two really interesting posts caught my attention, that I want to bring to yours.

First up, some serious data work. Andy Baio has done the hard work of scraping 3 days of #gamergate and #notyourshield tweets, and done some analysis on them. His central finding is this:

Two massive, impenetrable hairballs of people that want little to do with one another, only listening to their side and firing volleys across the chasm.

And that's visualised beautifully.

He also points out that the average age of the Twitter accounts used by #gamergate supporters skews very, very recent, as the graph at the top of this post clearly shows. Baio's careful to not suggest that it's the result of sock puppetry - but it's another data point to suggest that there's some of that at work.

My friend Kevin Anderson weighs in on the subject of sock puppets and false flag campaigns:

When you look at the techniques being used by some of these groups, such as creating sockpuppet social media accounts and using feminist critiques as a weapon against Brianna Wu (to demonstrate that her games were “anti-feminist”), you quickly get a sense of how the next partisan political scorched earth campaign will be fought. Sockpuppets will become the weaponised drones of popular opinion, amplifying marginal views so that they swamp mainstream opinion

And he raises a spectre of this becoming standard operating procedure for fringe groups wanting to persuade the media that they're more numerous than they really are:

Who needs robo-callers push-polling voters when you’ve got an army of AI-driven Twitter and Facebook accounts all spewing your line and endlessly quoted by cable TV show hosts who don’t care if the accounts are real, only if they reinforce their own talking points? They’ll be found out eventually, but it will be too late.

It's really beholden on us as journalists to develop a sophisticated enough understanding of social media and how it operates, and the data skills to analyse behaviours in the way that Baio did, to counteract this. If we take one thing away from #gamergate, it's that a minority can magnify their voices through smart use of technology. (It's arguable that ISIS is another example of this.)

Social media and data journalism aren't quirky digital add-ons - they're essential tools in our journalistic arsenal to understand, interrogate and report on the world around us. If we don't equip ourselves with these tools, we'll be used by those who have done so.

Adam miralejo mirror

Somewhere between 20 and 30 years ago, a skinny teenager who had finally outgrown his puppy fat sat watching TV in his front room in a small Scottish town. He was probably with his younger brother, and was almost certainly reading - until he heard the BBC children's presenters wish the children watching good luck with their exams.

"Thanks a bunch," he thought. "Our exams finished weeks ago". And then he threw his book at the TV. The BBC did not care about him, clearly.

And people wonder why the "Yes" vote in Scotland is so strong today.

That teenager was, of course, me. And that memory - amongst many others like it - is why I won't be surprised if Scotland votes "yes" today.

Childhood friends split

I've been watching the campaign with great interest, but writing very little (just the odd comment here and there). I've been reading as old school friends debate it on Facebook. One is very strongly "no", another very strongly "yes". Both are artists, and both have very valid perspectives on the situation. The general balance amongst my friends still up there seems around 50/50.

This is what happens when one part of the country forgets that the other has a different education system, legal system and (in many ways) culture. If Scotland leaves, the London-centric culture of organisations like the BBC and the civil service will have to shoulder an awful lot of the blame.

I grew up in Scotland. I moved up there a little before my fourth birthday, and have only glimpses of memories of my time living in Manchester before that. I would go on to live there until I left for university, and would visit regularly until my parents retired to Suffolk in my early 20s. In fact, I have spent just under half my life considering Scotland home. But I'm not Scottish.

But then, am I English? I may have been born English, but I didn't live there for any significant length of time until I was pretty much an adult. It's just not a label I can identify with. I've always called myself British. It captures both my upbringing and my adult life down south.

For a long time, I intended to write nothing about the referendum. I'm not resident in Scotland, I can't vote in the referendum and I can't honestly call myself Scottish. But today, walking back from a nursery drop-off and a coffee, I found a joke by Martin playing on my mind.

Identity crisis

If Scotland votes "yes" today, I won't know how to describe myself in a few years. I will, of course, still be technically both English and British. Britain is an island, not a nation. The United Kingdom will just no longer encompass the whole of Britain.

But an UK without the Scots feels somewhat empty to me. The country I will be a citizen of will no longer reflect part of what makes me who I am today. It will no longer contain a land and a people I love dearly. The UK has always felt like a family to me - a bickering family, true enough, and one with some serious problems , but a family none the less. And now someone is considering leaving the family. A family that loses a member is weaker for it.

If the Scots go, a small part of my identity will have been torn away.

Up until this morning, I didn't have a strong opinion about the way I wanted the vote to go - but I do now. I want a "No", but by a small, maybe tiny, margin. And, personally, I'd like to see fuller devolution. More powers to the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish parliaments, and an English parliament - outside London - to go with them. What we now think of as the Westminster parliament should be restricted to national issues only - ones that have an impact on all of the constituent parts of the UK.

There must be change

If the Scots vote to keep the UK together, then we should not return to business as normal. We should work to make it a genuinely United Kingdom, rather than a number of weaker kingdoms being pushed around by the big brother with delusions of grandeur. A "No" vote with no such change will only guarantee a "Yes" vote further down the line.

I don't want that. I want to be able to take my daughter to the land I grew up in, and have her know that it is part of her homeland, too.

Oh, crap, seriously?

Y'know, I don't often "do" politics on here, but some occasions just call for it:

The UK Independence party and France’s far-right Front National stormed to victory in European elections on Sunday night, as populist and nationalist parties across the continent dealt a heavy blow to the push for closer integration. Nigel Farage, Ukip leader, said the result – the first time a party other than Labour or the Conservatives had won a UK national election since 1910 – represented an “earthquake”. Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, said that there had been a “massive rejection of the EU”, while mainstream politicians struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

Things like this make me regret not "do"ing politics on here more often.

Many of you will have seen something like this when you visit my blog today:

EFF take-over on my blogAnd I'm far from alone. Here's Antony Mayfield's blog:

fight-back-3.pngAnd here's Christian Payne's:

fight-back.pngIt's not often that I use my blog for political purposes, but this is something I feel strongly about. I've heard from people on both sides of the issue, and while I can appreciate the effectiveness of mass surveillance in proventing terrorist attacks, I still can't find it in myself to condone mass surveillance of people who have no reasonable suspicion of involvement hanging over them. Just because the nature of the internet makes this easier does not mean this is an acceptable or reasonable way for democratic societies to behave.

So, I've signed the petition against it, and I urge you to consider doing the same - or writing to your congress respresentative if you're in the US

Sign the petition.

Just in case you missed it over the weekend, the UK Government are considering making it possible to seize reporters' notebooks and hard-drives, after secret hearings…

The Deregulation Bill is coming before the UK House of Commons on Monday, and among its many "red-tape-cutting" provisions is one that would allow the courts to grant the police secret hearings in which they could secure orders to seize reporters' notebooks, hard-drives and other confidential material. No one representing the reporters would be allowed to see the evidence in these "closed material procedures."

This is a profoundly worrying attack on journalists' ability to protect their sources - and the fact that secret hearings are involved is even more troubling. This will have a major impact on the ability of investigative journalists to do their work - and on the willingness of whistle-blowers to come forwards.

Is France ready for start-ups?

Arnaud Montebourg

I'm not liveblogging this session, because I'm not well-versed enough in French politics to be confident of doing it justice. There's a fascinating battle breaking out on stage, though.

Arnaud Montebourg, Minister of Redressement Productif in France, is on stage trying to defend France's reputation for being hostile to start-ups. He's taking a robust approach to it: he's accused Loïc of being unFrench for thinking that "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" should be updated. The example of Über keeps coming up - and the fact that France is moving to reduce its competitive example with the local taxi operators, by forcing Über cabs to wait a set amount of time. Plenty of people are arguing that defending existing businesses like this seems to be more important to the French than supporting new business.

He's arguing that you should target your innovation at creating new businesses and sectors and not disrupting existing businesses - and giving a clear warning that if you launch against existing businesses, they will be protected. It's a cultural thing, he suggests, in defending the right of people to make a living.

He describes it as a balanced approach. It's fairly clear that the room doesn't agree.

The VCs

And another issue has arisen: one questioner suggests that from tomorrow any French civil servant will be able to access his digital documents without reference to a judge. Montebourg fell back into French to deal with that. He seemed to be arguing that there were both protections in place, and new avenues for challenging the government on this.

But this clear picture to this Brit is that the tension between the French Government and the start-up community is high and not easing at all.

Fleur Pellerin

UPDATE: And now we get a completely different message from Fleur Pellerin, the Minister Delegate with responsibility for Small and Medium Enterprises, Innovation, and the Digital Economy.

She's trying to boost and support the venture capital industry in France - because she wants to make France the start-up centre of Europe.

You need to start in schools, she suggests, by helping children learn how to pitch and giving them the aspiration to try. France needs to work on the culture that you just become a salary man after business school - they need to stop the fear of failure stopping people becoming entrepreneurs. A very different set of messages from this morning's talk.

And she was surprisingly happy to let random audience members get on stage and ask her questions - and ask for money...

It might be a good time to start culling the politicians you follow on Twitter. Buzzfeed's Jim Waterson explains why Labour spammed its followers' Twitter feeds:

It's an attempt to recreate blanket broadcast-style coverage on Twitter. And if 4.5m people really did see this one tweet about energy bills then it would be an equivalent reach to the BBC's Six O'Clock News.

I suspect we're about to find out if people are prepared to accept politicians treating Twitter as a primarily broadcast medium. I have to say, if any group if people I followed did that, I'd unfollow the lot of them.

Nice piece of reporting by Buzzfeed.

Do all those fine folks on Twitter represent a good cross-section of the general public?

Overall, the reaction to political events on Twitter reflects a combination of the unique profile of active Twitter users and the extent to which events engage different communities and draw the comments of active users. While this provides an interesting look into how communities of interest respond to different circumstances, it does not reliably correlate with the overall reaction of adults nationwide.

tl;dr: Not so much:

At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative. Often it is the overall negativity that stands out. Much of the difference may have to do with both the narrow sliver of the public represented on Twitter as well as who among that slice chose to take part in any one conversation.

The Pew Research Centre report on Twitter reaction to events makes for fascinating reading.

Martin Belam pretended to be a ghost on twitter - and discovered the misogyny lurking in our political debate:

Then I announced that the next guest was going to be Emmeline Pankhurst, the first time it had featured a woman. Within a couple of minutes I got the first negative tweet I’d ever received directed at the account. And then a few minutes after that, without yet having tweeted in character, I got someone complaining that it was all going to be about feminism. And during the show people tweeted things like “Why are there no men on Woman’s hour?” at me.

It's a pretty disturbing read, rendered more so by the fact that these feelings are rendered in low level humour rather than outright abuse.

Libby Powell

Warning: liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling typos. Some of them will be mine, some of them auto-correct's. But don't say you weren't warned...

Libby Powell became a hack through entering a Guardian competition and writing an article about the overseas development work she was doing. She became a freelancer, but after a year began to feel like a bit of a fraud, writing about things she had no experience of. During a trip to Sierra Leone, she became aware of how much people's inability to tell the story of what they'd suffered was damaging to them. Everyone had phones, and was recording this stuff - but it wasn't getting published because it wasn't sexy enough for the mainstream media.

The media is powerful. You're telling people everything about people they've never met. Get it wrong, and you can do so much damage. People from the margins can improve quality and accountability more than those in the centre.

People kept telling her she was joining a sinking ship: journalism. She didn't feel that - to her it was a rising body, but one that was shedding some old skin. Media is still an elite, production of media is elite. 2/3s of the world's population is not yet online. As we switch to online, we shed those. That matters if you care about freedom, truth and exposure.

Rivers used to be the medium of communication and trade. Africa suffered because it lacked navigable rivers - and then road, and now connectivity. Those who are the last to connect, will be the last to tell their stories, or trade their goods. The most vulnerable are the ones least able to tell their stories.

Give people in the margins a digital voice

So, she formed radar. They'd use their currency as journalists to train the next generation to tell their own stories. They'd give people access to digital channels, via mobile to digital technology. They'd give people access to decision making, both editorial and political. Anyone who thinks that the whole world will be connected by 2020 is out of their mind. Social exclusion will control access to connectivity. Women will be prevented from accessing technology by social factors. People with disabilities are in the margins of society. So, they identify the people in the margins. They don't set up local offices, but find the people they trust - and approach them.

They started training using recycled NCTJ material. They started micro - with stories told by SMS. How can you teach people how to tell stories in 140 characters? It's easier to teach non-journalists that than people who have been trained to write lots of words. They teach the five "w"s. It centres people in a crisis. They are not technology-based, but human-based. They keep a human connection to people - and so they will never sclae to the Reuters level. They want to know the people they work with. The big platforms are getting so greedy for user content that they can't realisticly verify it anymore. Knowing the person make s ahuge difference to them.

She doesn't want this to be Doom Zone. Things are really ahrd for the reporters they work with. Some of that is unlearning steroetypes - you're not just interesting ebcause you've lost a limb. A disabled person doesn't have to report in disability all the time. It opens the floodgates once people understand that. They've had stories on Sollywood, Sierra Leone's emerging film industry.

They started on Tumblr, and used a SMS to Gmail tool to get it to work. But it's designed as a personal tool - so they ahd to work around the limitations. They run their digital hub from the UK. They don't write the stories - they amplify them. They tweet them, and send them to journalists. They get the repoerters interview slots. They do everything from their reporters they would do for themselves.

Tumblr is "great, love it". But they decided to invest in tech of their own - which was bold, because they weren't paying themselves yet. They built a microsite around the idea that mapping is really exciting right now. The maps show the stories as they come in, allowing people to explore the stories geographically. In August, they hope to have an "Explore" tab on their site. They can't talk much about it yet, but they're talking to gamers and thinking about how to sue multimedia to really engage with stories. Too often stories from the margins are treated as add-ons. They want to build one of the best storytelling platforms in the world to support this.

International Efforts

They want to move rights beyond the "right to be told" to the "right to tell". The idea of right to communicate is very stunted - we need to be very away of creating dialouge. They're doing Kenya, India and Siarra Leone - and new the UK. The majority of Bradford's population are middle-aged Muslim women, When do you see one of them as a reporter?

They've had coverage on the BBC and Al Jazeera. Their reporters "owned" Twitter during the Sierra Leone elections. Most of the groups they work with are off-grid and reply on SMS to communicate.

In Kenya, the women are almost invisble in the technology development and media. They targeted mothers and grandmothers, and mapped their work, reporting crimes and violence - but also "cool spots" where everything was OK. Stories are built SMS by SMS - often the base team text question back for more details.

In India, much of their work focuses on the untouchables. There have been seven acid attacks on girls in one district - and they triage by caste in the hospitals. One woman and her father wasn't allowed into the police station because of their caste. They're working with digital storytellers on ways of telling these stories more vividly. Stories need graphics and they need to move, if they're to move you...

Google and The Guardian invited them to an event - Big Tent Activate - and they brought some of their reporter with them - and evey one of them was rejected by the hotel security staff. But they got them in, and they got to pitch their stories to the Guardian.

Her experiences as an aid worker and a journalist have horrified her, ebcasue of the ease in which she can come and go from these troubled parts of the world. Can she make herself a mule to bring people's voices in and out? They need other people who feel this. They need editors, listeners, hackers... If you have a couple of hours to give, then let her know.

The SMS Gateway

They're using standard SMS gateways, based on http. They're putting teh data into a graph database to track relationships inherent in the stories. Each bit of data goes in, and the relationships get modelled. Intially they produce flat form stories, but as they develop the website, they'll start to expose how the story came about and developed, from the point the first text came in.

The UK pilot will include multimedia attachments, as even the cheapest UK phone can take photos.


How do you give back to your reporters?

We let them know we got it. A Tweet of a submission is one credit, used in a blog post is two and external publication is five. Credits can be used for more training. If they ask for stories, they give them $10 - more than the average weekly wage. Texts are always local - and they're looking at a free system, but there is a value in the cost as an editorial check. 5 to 6% of the stories have been published - and they get all of that money. One person in Sierra Leone has earned £250 for his stories - and has bought a new laptop and training with some of it. It's hard to walk the line between news agancy and campaigning group. They're linking with They lobby via Twitter, by directing articles at people.

How are you funded? How are you going to stay funded?

Having worked in development, she realises that the tools they have developed are valuable. Most of the third sector are woring off-grid, and they're finding it hard to communicate, which means projects are fading. A visit every two years isn't going to get real answers, because people are afraid you'll take it away. So - they're planning on pimping their tools. The training is lucrative, but adding the hubs and technology makes it far more so. They're going to split radar into a charitable entity and a shark-like consultancy firm, that will bring in money to fund the groups who can't pay.

How much knowledge transfer is going on from those you've trained? Can you create native language reporter networks?

The first few countries they worked with were primarily English speaking - but in India they weren't - and many were deaf. So she was working both through a translator and a signer. Theire tool needs to be developed to work with non-Roman alphanumeric language systems.

How are you approaching getting editorial impact?

She loves that she was just linked with Wikileaks. Ideally they wouldn't have gatekeepers - but they've always been a collaborative news agency. The editing gives people confidence to submit. They went without a website for a while - why move something from a closed community - a slum - to another - their website - when they can partner with people with traffic? They "shamed" The Guardian and the BBC into taking their coverage. They use Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter because they have traffic. And sometimes their reports are the only ones that come out of a country that month.