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Tweets Don’t Overthrow Governments

Foreign Policy on the Internet:

They told us the Internet would usher in a new era of freedom, political activism, and perpetual peace. They were wrong. 

Tweets don’t overthrow governments; people do. And what we’ve learned so far is that social networking sites can be both helpful and harmful to activists operating from inside authoritarian regimes. […] Neither Twitter nor Facebook provides the security required for asuccessful revolution, and they might even serve as an early warning system for authoritarian rulers. […] taking full advantage of online organizing requires a well-disciplined movement with clearly defined goals, hierarchies, and operational procedures (think of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign). But if a political movement is disorganized and unfocused, the Internet might onlyexpose and publicize its vulnerabilities and ratchet up the rancor ofinternecine conflicts. This, alas, sounds much like Iran’s disorganized green movement.

Google’s defense of Internet freedom is, ultimately, a pragmatically principled stance, with the rules often applied on a case-by-case basis. It would be somewhat naive — and, perhaps, even dangerous — to expect Google to become the new Radio Free Europe.

Many Internet enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic who were previously uninterested in policy debates have eagerly taken on the challenge of playing government watchdog, spending days and nights digitizing public data and uploading it into online databases. From Britain’s TheyWorkforYou to Kenya’s Mzalendo to various projects affiliated with the U.S.-based Sunlight Foundation such as MAPLight.org, a host of new independent websites has begun monitoring parliamentary activity, with some even offering comparisons between parliamentarians’ voting records and campaign promises. […] Even the most idealistic geeks are beginning to understand that entrenched political and institutional pathologies — not technological shortfalls — are the greatest barriers to more open and participatory politics. Technology doesn’t necessarily pry more information from closed regimes; rather, it allows more people access to information that is available. Governments still maintain great sway in determining what kinds of data to release. So far, even the Obama administration, the self-proclaimed champion of “open government,” draws criticism from transparency groups for releasing information about population counts for horses and burros while hoarding more sensitive data on oil and gas leases. And even when the most detailed data get released, it does not always lead to reformed policies, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out in his trenchant New Republic cover story last year. Establishing meaningful connections between information, transparency, and accountability will require more than just tinkering with spreadsheets; it will require building healthy democratic institutions and effective systems of checks and balances. The Internet can help, but only to an extent: It’s political will, not more info, that is still too often missing.

Aggregators like Google News might be disrupting the business models of CNN and the New York Times, forcing substantial cutbacks in one particularly costly form of news-gathering — foreign correspondents — but they have also equalized the playing field for thousands of niche and country-specific news sources, helping them to reach global audiences. How many people would be reading AllAfrica.com or the Asia Times Online were it not for Google News? […] The instantaneous fact-checking, ability to continuously follow a story from multiple sources,and extensive newspaper archives that are now freely available were unimaginable even 15 years ago. The real danger in the changing face of foreign news is the absence of intelligent and respected moderators. The Internet may be a paradise for well-informed news junkies, but it is a confusing news junkyard for the rest of us.

Even in a networked world, the hunger for consumer goods and information is still taste-dependent, and location remains a fairly reliable proxy for taste. A 2006 study published in the Journal of International Economics, for instance, found that for certain digital products — such as music, games, and pornography — each 1 percent increase in physical distance from the United States reduced by 3.25 percent the number of visits an American would make to a particular website.

Not only user preferences, but also government and corporate actions — motivated as often by cost and copyright as by political agendas — might mean the end of the era of the single Internet. That is to say, the days in which everyone can visit the same websites regardless of geographic location might be waning, even in the “free” world. We are seeing more attempts, mostly by corporations and their lawyers, to keep foreign nationals off certain Web properties. […]

Moreover, many celebrated Internet pioneers — Google, Twitter,Facebook — are U.S. companies that other governments increasingly fear as political agents. Chinese, Cuban, Iranian, and even Turkish politicians are already talking up “information sovereignty” — a euphemism for replacing services provided by Western Internet companies with their own more limited but somewhat easier to control products, further splintering the World Wide Web into numerous national Internets. The age of the Splinternet beckons.

Two decades in, the Internet has neither brought down dictators nor eliminated borders. It has certainly not ushered in a post-political age of rational and data-driven policymaking. It has sped up and amplified many existing forces atwork in the world, often making politics more combustible and unpredictable. Increasingly, the Internet looks like a hypercharged version of the real world, with all of its promise and perils, while the cyber utopia that the early Web enthusiasts predicted seems ever more illusory.

Source: Foreign Policy

American Town For Sale

Wauconda, a small hamlet in Okanogan County, Washington, just sold for $360,000, after Daphne Fletcher put the property on the auction block. Wauconda, which boasts a gas station, eatery, store, house, and even its very own ZIP code, has seen its population dwindle from just over 300 in 1900. Currently, Fletcher estimates some 100 families live within 10 miles of the town.

Source: The Huffington Post

Making Anti-Poverty Programs Work – M.I.T. Economist Esther Duflo Wins The John Bates Clark Award

Professor Duflo, 37, helped found the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, whose affiliates do randomized experiments in poor countries to help determine what types of aid and anti-poverty programs actually work.

One of her own recent studies looked at how quota systems for female politicians affected Indian attitudes toward female leadership. Other papers have looked at ways to motivate teachers to have better attendance at Indian schools, and what effect reducing the student-teacher ratio at Kenyan schools has on test scores.

Source: The New York Times

Entrepreneurs Petition Against AIFM Directive

Following a consulting work for a MEP and a think tank in 2009, I have already published a post (and an article on Contrepoints) about the AIFM Directive. Thanks to Seedcamp, I have just seen that a petition against the present text is circulating.

Please help campaign against this directive which would damage VC investments in startups. Euro Entrepreneurs, time to lobby !  By this Sunday night, April 25, we need to get a significant number of European entrepreneurs to help the European Venture Capital Association in lobbying the EU and signing a petition against this damaging Directive.

Source: Seedcamp Blog

The Directive on Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) has the potential to have a great impact on the European economy. One should be concerned that the Directive will result in more costs and extra regulation with negligible benefit arising for the hedge fund industry and the private equity sector, which have already been hit hard by the global financial crisis.  In its current form the AIFM Directive is seriously flawed and has the potential to destroy thousands of jobs in European financial centers.

One thought on “Tweets Don’t Overthrow Governments, Making Anti-Poverty Programs Work, Town For Sale, Euro Entrepreneurs Against AIFM Directive – Web Browsing April 26, 2010

  1. And for those companies who now run scared by blocking employee access to social media apps, I offer up this helpful resource for those IT Depts. It’s a whitepaper called “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”

    http://bit.ly/9f8WOT

    It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, SharePoint, etc.)

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