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Bots — chunks of computer code that generate messages and replicate themselves — have been infecting political discourse around the world. They have been spotted try to influence elections in the United Kingdom, Mexico and just recently, South Korea. Politicians there have been using bots to torment their opponents, muddle political conversations, and misdirect debate. We need political leaders to pledge not to use them.

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Enrique Peña Nieto fue el campeón de los bots (robots para crear mensajes) y derrochó recursos sin lograr revertir oleadas de opiniones en su contra; Andrés Manuel López Obrador con su página amlo.si acrecentó una comunidad fiel, pero le faltó tiempo para extenderla, y Josefina Vázquez Mota arrancó bien para después enredarse en los yerros de su campaña. Los investigadores Guillermo Pérezbolde, Eva Sander y Claudia Benassini ubican las fallas en que los candidatos dialogaron poco o nada con la población y reprodujeron las trampas de tierra comprando bots o escenificando artificiosas guerras tuiteras. “Tristemente los estrategas se fueron mucho por los vanity metrics, las estadísticas de la vanidad (número de seguidores o de me gusta en Facebook) y no dialogaron con los ciudadanos”, afirma Sander, directora de estrategia de la empresa Ondore y especialista en nuevos medios. En vez de preocuparse por interactuar, los candidatos se dedicaron a transmitir mensajes para que la gente los consumiera como si fueran programas de televisión o de radio. Nunca dijeron: ciudadano, platícame cuáles son tus inquietudes, ¿qué te gustaría que hiciera? ¿Por qué no estás de acuerdo con esta propuesta?, concluye Pérezbolde, vicepresidente de la Asociación Mexicana de Internet (Amipci).

But Nigerian newspapers differ from the almost exclusively human interest reporting of their global counterparts in the lengths they will go to make links between attacks in the remote northeast and national politics – all against the background of looming elections. “We thought it (the Boko Haram insurgency) was a flash in the pan … But it has become a very bad ulcer,” said Oloja. “This insurgency is political. It is tied to the 2015 presidential election. People are imputing motives. This wasn’t like that a year ago,” he added. Once the revolt was largely a matter for the authorities of the northeast. But the fighters have stepped up the violence in recent months, launching attacks in the central city of Jos and in Abuja, the capital. The government’s decision to declare states of emergency and launch a military offensive in May last year has meant national agencies face harsh scrutiny – particularly after their failure to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April. The police’s decision to ban public protests over the girls in the capital last week, and then apparently reverse that decision, generated a three-column editorial asking if the police chief should “be allowed to function in a democracy”.

His rhetoric plays on a schism in Turkish society between a western-facing, largely secular segment of the population suspicious of his conservative Islamic ideals and a pious, working-class mass who see him as a hero for returning religious values to public life and driving a decade of growth. It is a strategy, his opponents say, which sees him deliberately appeal to only the half of the population while ignoring the rest. Yet even Erdogan’s critics acknowledge that he has overseen Turkey’s transformation from a financial backwater into one of the world’s most dynamic economies, a record which means that a narrow majority of voters – as well as investors – have kept giving him the benefit of the doubt. “One of the greatest fears is that the government will make populist policies, which will grossly affect growth, but they haven’t done that yet,” said an Ankara-based diplomat, asking not to be identified so as to speak more freely. “Erdogan is a smart man, he can turn the bleakest situations to his advantage. He is only focused on the 50 percent. His only point of reference is to stay in power,” he said. “He’s as pragmatic as you can get.”

This conference investigates the sharpening conflict between national law and state sovereignty on the one hand, and global online communications on the other hand. We appear to be at the brink of a potentially drastic transformation of the Internet into a much more territorially fragmented space, consisting of a number of separate, yet overlapping national and regional networks. Even European leaders are investigating the possibility of a European-only communication network, strongly reminiscent of China’s approach to online governance. The Westphalian model of state sovereignty is fighting back – but at what cost and what are the alternatives? The discussion of this conference seeks to advance the established yet stale academic debate on internet jurisdiction by taking a multi-disciplinary approach, going beyond the conventional parameters of the legal analysis. Rather than focus on specific jurisdictional rules and frameworks (all of which are premised on the continued viability of effective national laws in the global arena, i.e. the very matter in contention), the starting point of the discussion of this conference is the proposition that effective national law and unhindered transnational communications are irreconcilable and that any ‘compromise’ is indeed a compromise that comes at a cost either to peculiar national laws/values or free transnational communications or in fact both: you cannot have your cake and eat it too. With the acceptance of this position, it becomes possible to ground the debate in higher legal and political values, such as freedom of expression, democratic governance and the preservation of cultural identity/diversity, and to interrogate the possibilities of catering for these values through re-negotiated forms of governance.

Internet Jurisdiction Symposium – 10-11 September 2014