Citizen Journalism Puts a Win in the First Amendment Column

We have all seen the videos of Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles, Oscar Grant’s death at the BART station in Oakland, Anthony Graber’s arrest for videotaping his own arrest in Maryland, and other “caught on video” scenes with public officials behaving outside the law or violating the rights of citizens.   The question brought before the US 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, is simple – is filming a public official in the performance of their duties a right guaranteed us  under the 1st amendment of the US Constitution?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (1st Amendment, US Constitution)

Montreal Fire DepartmentOn 26 August the US Court of Appeals issued their opinion, following a suit filed by the ALCU on behalf of Simon Glik, a citizen arrested on 1 October 2007 for filming a Boston Police take down of a man in Boston Commons.  Glik was standing in a public location, at least 10 feet away from the officers, when suspicion of excessive use of force prompted him to film the incident with his cell phone.  A Boston police officer challenged Glik on whether he was capturing audio with his film, and upon admitting he was, the officers arrested Glik under Massachusetts wiretap statute.

It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”

…An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.'”

The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles.

Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” (Case 10-1764)

This is a major win for citizens, and citizen journalists.  With “mainstream” media such as CNN recruiting “iReporters” for  their broadcasts, it is a clear message to the world traditional journalists cannot adequately cover world events, and citizen journalists have a role in filling coverage gaps during rapidly evolving events.

While we can acknowledge police officers and public officials will not always warmly embrace embrace this decision, it is the law.

Why it is Important to Support Citizen Journalism and the Right to Record Events

National and local newspapers are rapidly closing due to either mismanagement (the owners did not see the radical changes prompted by the digital age), bankruptcy, or combinations of both dynamics. The “Newspaper Deathwatch” website highlights the major newspapers that have closed in the past five years, and those which have either announced their demise or change to an all digital format.

With the loss of newspapers, the media industry is also losing experienced reporters, creating major shortfalls in coverage of public events (such as city hall meetings, school board meetings, etc), as well as incidents and events occurring within the community (such as accidents, fires, weather-related news, etc).

Among the more well-known sites which have closed or changed formats are:

  • Honolulu Advertiser (closed and merged with the Star-Bulletin)
  • Rocky Mountain News
  • Cincinnati Post
  • Baltimore Examiner
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • Detroit News/Free press
  • Christian Science Monitor

This means local news sources are becoming more scarce, depriving citizens of knowledge related to their local community.  The digital age supports gathering and recovering that knowledge, primarily through user generated content.  An emerging trend in news gathering and presentation is through hyper-local web sites focusing on individual communities or geographies.  As many startup hyper-local media sources are self-funded or lacking ample startup funding, the editors and owners do rely on citizen generated content to provide news to readers.

The US Court of Appeals in their decision on recording public officials and police have fortunately accepted and understood the changing technologies and media environment, acknowledging citizens recording  events are protected under the Bill of Rights, and those citizens are also protected from illegal arrest, search, or seizure of their media.

NOTE:  Attempts to contact the public affairs/information officer (PIO) at several Los Angeles area police departments were unsuccessful.  If the PIOs do eventually respond, we will update the blog with that response.  This is not meant to degrade the professionalism or courage of police officers,  rather it is meant to highlight citizen rights under the 1st and 4th amendments under the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Montreal’s Ambassadors of the Lachine Canal

May 21st marked the first real day of spring in Montreal.  Warm, sunny, a hint of humidity, with the scent of blooming flowers and freshly cut grass finally overwhelming the smell of automobiles.  A perfect day to investigate more wonders hidden within one of the oldest cities in North Lachine CanalAmerica.

The Lachine Canal stretches about 14.5 km from the Old Port of Montreal to Lake St. Louis.  One of those landmarks you see while jogging or walking along the waterfront around Old Town, but for most people it is just that – one of those old relics of a city that has been around for a long time.  Not many souvenir shops along the canal, just a few cafes, but a really pleasant series of protected trails and bike paths for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Walking along the canal you will eventually hit one of the 5 locks providing access to small boats desiring to cruise the historic industrial living museum of Montreal on both sides of the Lachine.

Andre marinOn Saturday, Andre Marin and Martin Nguyen were manning the locks, both lock keepers for Parks Canada.  As I walked towards Lock #3 at Saint-Gabriel, Andre and Martin greeted me, and asked where I was from.  Learning a California boy had stumbled upon their lock, and the fact no boats were currently approaching, they both lit up and took the opportunity to give me a complete overview of the lock system, and history lesson on the surrounding area.

Martin, who grew up in the local area near “his” lock, took a special pride explaining the significance of the canal to not only the city of Montreal, but to the entire economy of the Great Lakes waterways.  “Over there, that was a sugar refinery.  And there, an old textile mill,” said Andre.  “Don’t forget to take pictures of the old swing bridge, it is covered with graffiti and weeds, but still pretty cool…”

Andre continued with detailed explanations of how the locks worked, explaining during the summer season “we can do (process) nearly 100 boats on a busy day.”

LachineBoatTime to go to work.  Martin needs to prepare the lock to accept their next “customer,” a small inflatable craft.  Martin heads into the lock reception area, and Andre gets ready to open the lock’s doors for their visitor.

Andre reminds me, “hey, make sure you ask the boat driver for permission to take pictures, it is the tradition here” as he focuses on getting ready for “his” boat.

The boat arrives, slides through the entry lock, ties up on the reception dock, and the lock floods up to the level of the next segment of the canal.  Andre runs to the other side of the lock, opens the doors, and the “customer” is free to head on to Lock #4 (Cote-Saint Paul).

All done with precision, and a genuinely friendly greeting to their boating customers.  A good feeling all around for everybody.

Hand shakes, email addresses, and promises to connect at some point in the future, and we are on our way to the next Montreal adventure.

Ambassadors of the Lachine Canal

Lachine Canal LocksGranted, customer service is the primary job of all persons working at Parks Canada.  However there is a big difference between following a customer service script, and having deep pride in your city, work, and heritage that drives both hospitality and friendship to strangers.  Andre and Martin both had a couple Los Angeles or “states” stories to tell, but it is clear their mission in life is to promote Montreal, Canada, and their special role as ambassadors to the Lachine Canal.

And it is clear they love their job.

If you would like to learn more about the Lachine Canal, check out the Parks Canada website, or simply do a Google search on Lachine Canal.  Plenty of history, lots of old pictures and documents.

Better yet, when you come to Montreal take a break from the tourist areas of Vieux Montreal and walk, ride, or jog along the canal.  When you get to Lock #3, give the guys my regards.  

A Situational Benefit of Citizen Journalism

Citizen JournalistOver the past three years I’ve added study of citizen journalism to my collection of hobbies.  One of those subjects where it is understood you may never make a penny income for your labors, but a lot of fun to learn and appreciate the skills of written and photo journalism, and the role non-professional citizens have in extending the reach of “mainstream” journalism.

Following dozens of writing classes, journalism courses, a couple hundred blog articles, and hours of online seminars via podcasts from sources such as the Columbia School of Journalism, I decided to take stock of what I have learned, and what value this “hobby” has brought to my life.

In military we are taught to develop a sense called “situational awareness.”  This developed sense builds skills in seeing, categorizing, understanding, and evaluating your surroundings.   Of course this is valuable when put in an environment potentially presenting danger allowing a soldier to quickly understand threats, opportunities, avenues of attack, avenues of escape, and all other things that allow the soldier to stay alive while meeting his objectives.

Having gone through my three year refresher course of journalism and citizen journalism appreciation training, I find the most striking lesson is the situational awareness journalists need to develop and employ in their jobs.  it is not enough to simply go to a city council meeting and record conversations, the journalist needs to become one with their environment, and take a Gestalt view of surrounding activities as a situation or event develops.

The basic who, why, what, when, where, and how questions force a journalist to collect information, classify information, evaluate information, and present information in a manner which will be understood by their target audience.

Then, we have the material or content to present either a raw view (in the case of a citizen journalist), or a view with context for others to understand an event that will now become a record in history.

But What if I am Not a Journalist?

Actually, we are all journalists.  We all write reports, record performance, produce statistics, evaluate opportunities, and keep the “books.”

In business those who develop exceptional situational awareness are able to more quickly evaluate opportunities, threats, risks, and their environment.  However we can get lazy, often relying on routine and past experience when making decision in a rapidly changing world.

A study in journalism has taught me to go back to those lessons learned in the military, and to establish better discipline in applying the “5Ws” and “H” principle of journalism to daily life.  Our business lives require constant decision making, and more informed decision will statistically beat “gut” reactions.  Nothing wrong with a gut reaction, but decisions made on an “informed” gut reaction will likely yield a better result.

It is All About Discipline

I have to add a note of appreciation to my recent instructors, including Ms. Susan Cormier, head coach at the National Association of Citizen Journalists (NACJ).  A citizen journalist, blogger, or business person rarely has the opportunity to receive a detailed writing critique from a qualified editor.  Going back to school, and receiving that neutral evaluation of your work will not only humble a bit or personal arrogance, but also ensure your writing is clear, to the point, and focuses on  facts.

Whether it is enhancing your interview skills, grammar skills, organization skills, or simply using creativity to come up with new ideas, the discipline of journalism can only make your product better.

I strongly encourage all readers and writers to go back to Writing 101, Journalism 101, and business communications.  Through the magic of Internet, most of this can be yours without cost.  Why not?

Formalizing Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalists come in two major categories.  The first is an accidental journalist, or a person who just happens to be at the scene of an event.  This person will record the event, or portions of the event, for later analysis by potentially a global audience.  The second are those who intentionally seek out events, and provide their own analysis (along with raw source materials) of events.  This person will often act as a “non-credentialed” alternative to “professional” journalists.  Let’s call them “Enthusiast Citizen Journalists.”

Accidental Citizen JournalistsThrough the magic of an Internet-connected world, now even citizen journalists have resources available online to bring more training to supplant their efforts, bringing much more credibility to the blogging and user-provided news content community.

In the era of print journalism, much of the content form was driven by available space, as well as being influenced by advertising.  Newspapers and news magazines had strict rules on fact checking, form, style, and story structure.  Blogging and Internet news sources, given the nature of computer screens, real-time updates, and global access forced change in how media is gathered, managed, and presented.

However the publisher’s intent remains the same – present the news in a format that will grab a reader’s attention, keep them reading, and sell advertising.  Oh, and keep the reader coming back for more…

The Citizen Journalist and Online Media

Citizen Journalism changes the rules.  Now, anybody who can figure out the basics of WordPress or Blogger is a publisher.  With several million people already blogging in some form, that is a lot of “stuff” for the Internet-enabled community to slog through in an attempt to discover useful information.  it is increasingly difficult to discriminate between fact, opinion, propaganda, or simply the bizarre ramblings of a chemically-enhanced former actor’s mind.

There is good news.  The “old” publishing industries and broadcast media have started embracing the idea that both accidental journalists and enthusiast journalists have not only a role to play, but are now being accepted as  offering valuable contributions to the news industry.  This is very apparent when you watch broadcast news, look at online news sources, or even print media.  Nearly every news organization actively solicits input from citizens, whether on-the-scene reports via Skype, or simply uploading pictures and videos to a web site.

However until this point the “old” media has used citizen input as a raw news source, normally providing analysis and commentary on the citizen-provided materials with “professional” journalists.

Training the Citizen Journalist, and Gaining Credibility at the Source

Nearly every university has at least one course introducing concepts of journalism.  However in the old days (pre ~2010) there was little incentive or justification for taking much more than an introductory course in journalism – unless of course you were planning a career in the journalism industry.  Now, in a world of social media, online everything, blogging, and complex corporate websites, nearly everybody who works is starting to see the need to understand how to think and write at a level which can be understood by a global-connected audience.

Management sections at bookstores (those few remaining) have a large shelf dedicated to the theory of selling yourself, your company, and your future through the Internet.  There is a strong message to professionals that emphasizes the need to “publish” expertise through blogs and online media.

Then we have the enthusiast citizen journalist (ECJ).  Armed with a digital camera, digital voice recorder, laptop computer, and desire to seek out events (and record them…), the ECJ wants to fill in the gaps left when traditional news media edits or determines what the reader/viewer community needs to know.  However, the bad part is few ECJs actually have enough training to present their stories in a way average readers or viewers can accept or absorb.

To help meet this need, the educational community, and news media community have started providing good quality training online to ECJs that will help bring a much higher levels of quality and form to blogs and ECJ-provided content.

Much of the online training is very citizen journalist aware, much of it is trying to push a “round citizen journalist peg” into a “square traditional journalism hole.”  In either case the training gives each potential ECJ, or even professional striking out into the blogging world a refresher course in writing for an audience.  All network-enabled writers need reminders and practical exercises on how to gather, present, and explain events.  All ECJs and bloggers need to know how to create a feature or story allowing not only presentation of an idea, but also to allow for opinion and editorial – without generating low-value noise.

If you are an aspiring ECJ, professional who needs to provide a blogging presence, or simply want to explore the technique and craft of new media journalism, take a look at some of the following training resources.  Some are free, some are not.

  • Knight Citizen News NetworkThe Knight Citizen News Network is a self-help portal that guides both ordinary citizens and traditional journalists in launching and responsibly operating community news and information sites.
  • Poynter News UniversityPoynter is a school that exists to ensure that Americans have access to excellent journalism—the kind of journalism that enables us to participate fully and effectively in our democracy.
  • Journalism Training Org.  A directory of local training venues.
  • National Association of Citizen JournalistsNACJ membership and training empowers citizen journalists for the exciting task of discovering, writing and reporting news with a level of professionalism that was once the standard in major media outlets.

Lots more available via a Google search…

And, of course we’d expect the academic community to embrace the potential given to us through Internet-enabled technologies, and further diffuse online journalism training into the educational curriculum for students, better preparing the next generations to fully exploit the power of images, videos, and words.

With all types of citizen journalism, the global community will have much greater access to unfiltered events either as they happen, or shortly afterward.  Nearly every person on the planet has the ability to be an accidental citizen journalist, and most of us the ability to become an ECJ.  In the past our quality of reporting has often been marginal, but in the future we will evolve, through training, to better meet the challenges and opportunities offered by a global audience.

Citizen Journalists and Modern Chronicles of Disaster

Jeff Jarvis, author, journalist, and new media visionary provided his thoughts on citizen journalism during a CNN interview (13 March 2011) following the Japan tsunami disaster.  One of the most interesting ideas concerned the immediacy and presence of citizens able to record events, and distribute recorded events in near real time.  Jarvis expressed the idea that we cannot wait for traditional journalists to arrive at the scene of an event, and with new devices such as cell phone cameras and the Internet any citizen can provide raw materials which journalists may then provide deeper context.

Citizen Journalism 2011Journalists as News Aggregators

Tradition news media is still working to fully understand the deal with the idea of citizen journalism, and how to use the global pool of news recorders to not only their benefit, but also the benefit of viewers and readers.  Jarvis further developed the idea of media becoming an aggregator of news recorded by amateur sources around the world.  Whether it is through a CNN iReport, KTLA “My Capture/Your KTLA,” or a Fox news “U-Report,” traditional media has recognized the power of citizens, and is aggressively recruiting citizen sources to supplement their own news sources.

As Jarvis mentioned, there is no way traditional media companies can provide adequate on-the-scene journalists to cover all aspects of a story or event.  Thus if citizens are able to provide more raw materials, and the traditional media company can collate or aggregate those materials, while adding context or piecing individual pieces of a story together to complete a larger story.  This is particularly important in rapidly developing situations, such as the Japan Tsunami, a California wildfire, or other crisis.

NOTE:  Nearly every news outlet supporting citizen journalism input also includes a disclaimer recommending no person put themselves into “harm’s way” to provide video or photo records of an event.

Journalism Becomes a Source of “What We Don’t Know”

As citizen journalism continues to supplement traditional media, Jarvis continued discussing the idea of news changing from a an idea of presenting “what we do know” about an event or story, to identifying “what we don’t know.”  That is a difficult idea to fully comprehend.  However when we are able to consider the immediacy of news sources, it is very exciting.

For example, as I sit in Montreal writing a story about the earthquake in Sendai, I know that many people in Japan still have access to the Internet, have cameras, and are constantly monitoring social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter.  There is a very good chance if I desire information on a specific city, or recovery event occurring within a city, there will be somebody in that location who can provide the information or photos needed to complete my story.  I may never meet that source, and may only be able to send an email message in thanks (in addition to citing their contribution in the story), but the source (or sources) is now available to me within minutes from virtually anywhere in the world.

In an event as large as the Sendai tsunami, even an outlet such as CNN with two or three on-the-scene reporters can only cover a small fraction of the entire magnitude of the incident.  To get the full picture, having dozens or hundreds of contributing citizen journalists will not only help interested viewers around the world gain access to a more complete picture of the event, but also when necessary provide an unfiltered view of an event.

YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and Other Neutral Archives

The real value of video, photo, and textual records of an event may be in the raw form it is recorded.  While we expect a news media source, whether a newspaper, magazine, or television news program to provide a factual report on an event, it is not a guarantee.  Any person who has traveled around the world, watching news programs sourced in many different countries, it is very clear each news source has a slightly different presentation of the same event or story.

If you watch CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV (China), NHK (Japan), or France 2, or Fox News, you will definitely get 7 different representations of the same story.  In this case citizens loading their raw videos or photos to a neutral archive will provide a view into an event without the fear of government spin or propaganda, nor newscasters adding their own editorial or politically motivated analysis.

The Future of News

While not promoting the idea of encouraging the average citizen to become a war correspondent, being equipped with a recording device does give each citizen the ability to record a snapshot of time and event.  Whether it is providing supplemental materials to a news outlet, or providing real-time information to emergency service personnel, citizens recording events are here to stay.  At some point governments and others attempting to “spin” facts in their interest or favor will lose their influence due to the ability to archive raw recordings of events within the global Internet “cloud.”

After spending a morning looking through the raw tsunami and earthquake video uploaded to YouTube, it is clear traditional news media and journalists could never provide the level of un-edited footage available through the Internet.  We will still watch CNN (and other stations) to learn more of the big picture, but it is clear the future will have that big picture produced through the efforts of individual citizens, at a level much higher than we have been exposed to in the past.

Concerns Grow as Violence Against Journalists Continues to Escalate

Local news stations monitored the situation on 1 May 2007 in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park.  A peaceful May Day demonstration had moved into the park, and police had failed to correctly guide participants and marchers, and with a higher than anticipated volume of people began to lose control of the situation. 

The news caught the police response in real time, including the use of non-lethal force against journalists covering the demonstration.

The treatment of some members of the media raised questions about the training, discipline and understanding of the role of the media on the part of some of the officers in MacArthur Park that day. Some officers did not adhere to the guidelines required pursuant to agreements between the Department and the media…

…in the move to clear the park, some officers pushed and struck some members of the media to move them from the area, rather than allowing the media to move safely into a designated media viewing area. (From Final Report on MacArthur Park Incident, LAPD)

While shocking to the people of Los Angeles, with full media coverage the police simply could not ignore the outrage of a community which relies on police to provide for the safety of citizens, and enforce those laws determined by elected representatives of the people of Los Angeles, California, and the United States.

The Role of Journalists

Journalists document events, and present those events to the community as an informational message, or as a permanent  historical record.  Without journalists documenting events, the history of an event may be lost within a generation.

Journalists, when not used as a tool for misinformation or propaganda, record and present facts.  Those facts may later be used in independent or expert analysis of an event, but the raw record remains untouched.

Citizen journalism supplements traditional journalism with the purity of untouched records of events using modern technology available to a very high percentage of the global community, including cameras, mobile phones, and other common recording media.

This is all good, if the intention of journalism is to ensure events are recorded for immediate analysis, and future generations will have access to evidence needed to better understand how historical events have influenced the present.

So why are we constantly faced with news stories telling us of violence committed against journalists in both developed and developing countries?  What is it about creating a record of history that drives some governments and people to assault, kill, or prevent journalists from doing their jobs?

The Desire for Power and Illegal Activities

There are several groups sharing a common hatred of journalists.  The police, criminals, and repressive governments.  All have historically been the perpetrators of either human rights violations, or have a desire to ensure facts about events or incidents are never recorded or made available to the public.  In short, those organizations that need to maintain secrecy to prevent the public from being aware of their behavior or actions.

Not all police are bad, and not all governments are bad.  To protect operations, a high level of secrecy is often critical to the safety and success of a mission.  And there is certainly adequate justification for the protection of certain classifications of state secrets.

On the other hand, those immoral and unethical elements of our global community who bring themselves to power or success through illegal activities or use of brutality against those they strive to control public knowledge of their activities, as exposure will in most case bring swift retaliation or condemnation.

Oppressive regimes such as Iran, North Korea, Angola, and Kyrgyzstan exercise strict control over what can be recorded to reported mainly due to the reality their actions against the people are at a level of violence that the civilized world finds horrifying and repulsive.  And the result is international condemnation and economic sanctions against the regime.

Luanda – The Union of Angolan Journalists said it was worried about the recent rise in violence against reporters. One journalist was murdered and two others attacked over the past three months. No arrests have been made in any of a series of recent attacks against journalists in Angola, the oil-rich country that was recently ranked the 10th most corrupt in the world by watchdog Transparency International.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release independent journalists Ulugbek Abdusalomov and Azimjon Askarov, and to ensure the safety of other journalists working in southern Kyrgyzstan, which has been engulfed by interethnic violence since early June.

Concern is rising over attacks on the press in Iraq, following the recent deaths of journalists and media workers in a particularly bloody week for the profession, which raises questions of press freedom in the region. With reporters and media workers falling victim to both insurgents and US military action, and the interim government planning “stringent controls” on the media through a newly-created Higher Media Council, it has been asked whether it is possible to have a free press in Iraq.

The escalating violence against journalists in Mexico prompted an unprecedented demonstration of more than 1,000 people in ten cities, demanding an end to murders, kidnappings and disappearances

Journalist Amy Miller of the Alternative Media Centre was arrested over the weekend at the G20 protests in Toronto. She was held for 13 hours, during which time she saw multiple women strip-searched and was repeatedly threatened with rape.

An article in the police support site “Police One” expresses mixed feelings from a veteran officer discussing the use of police cameras – and citizen journalism on the behavior of police. 

While expressing concern that video of police behaving badly may only represent a snippet of a larger situation, there is still an acknowledgement that videos are helping hold police accountable. “My own view is that YouTube has done more to expose the reality of police abuse than all the blue-ribbon commissions combined,” said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied police brutality.

The LAPD incident during the 2007 May day rally in Los Angeles caught both overly aggressive police using force to break up a crowd, as well as the same level of force being used against journalists who were recording the action.

NOTE:  This is not an anti-COP blog.  While I have personally seen, and experienced completely unjustified violence and abuse committed by “bad cops,” I can also say that my own “home town” police in Long Beach (California) are among the finest law enforcement professionals in the world. If you look at the LA County Sheriff’s website, and count the number of violent incidents managed by deputies every day, it is clear they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and are doing absolutely the best possible job.

On the other hand, the Rodney King beatings, 2007 May Day Demonstration, and hundreds of other incidents do expose a level of abuse that simply cannot be allowed to exist in a free, democratic society.

The Long Term Impact of Technology and Citizen Journalism

If you live in a city, there are very few public locations left without some level of surveillance or video monitoring.  Nearly every mobile phone sold today has a camera embedded in the device, and even homes are now using video security.

This record of our lives is good and bad.  Bad in the context of losing nearly every last shred of privacy and anonymity, good in the respect incidents of crime and violence are much more likely to be recorded for review, evaluation, and use.

As in the recent elections in Iran, where citizen journalists caught abuses by the police and government on their mobile phones, and then transmitted the images at near real time to social media and file sharing sites around the world – governments and police will now have to look at not only the threat card-carrying journalists bring to their antics, but also will need to look at every person on the street, mounted security cameras, and the Internet as their enemy.

Journalists will also have access to much more public and private resource provided by technology and citizen journalists.  The true value in professional journalism will be reinforced as the ability to interpret raw facts and apply contextual relations and value to those facts – a skill most citizen journalists lack.

Those maintaining their positions of authority and power may not fall soon, but at least now there is a greater chance their abuses will surface and face the global judgment.

Social Networking through Disaster – Exercise24

A massive earthquake hits the California coast near Huntington Beach between San Diego  and the Baja Peninsula. Of course it was not real, it was an exercise managed by San Diego State University’s VisCenter and InRelief.Org called Exercise24.   Exercise24  was planned as “an open, ‘no fault’ environment for nations, organizations and the global community to explore collaborative technologies and develop solutions to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief challenges,” wrote George Bressler, SDSU adjunct faculty member and lead coordinator of X24.

The Role of Social Media in Disasters

TweetingWe’ve looked at the use of Twitter and other social media tools in previous articles on fires in Santa Barbara, Haiti, Chile, and preparing for the non-event tsunami in Hawaii.  As a tool, instant one-to-many and many-to-many real-time interactive messaging  has tremendous value.  Where broadcast media and law enforcement have shortfalls in the lag time between and event and notifications, instant messaging can give real-time, “as it is occurring” updates to a wide audience.

Exercise 24 (X24) was an attempt at gaining a greater understanding of how to more effectively use tools such as Twitter and Facebook during emergencies.  Objectives included:

Objective One

Utilize the computing cloud to rapidly converge geographically dispersed global experts at the onset of a simulated international incident, deploy a foundation of guidance in concert with community leaders in a manner that empowers community members through education and smart technologies to support mitigation, response, recovery, and a resumption of societal normalcy at a level of functioning an order of magnitude higher than existed before.

Objective Two

Leverage smart phones, ultra-lights (United States), and unmanned air systems (Mexico) for rapid threat/damage assessment of a simulated seismic event that generates a significant oil spill off the coast of Southern California and Northern Baja California, as well as damage to critical infrastructure inland that necessitates mass sheltering of displaced community members.

Objective Three

Leverage the power of NGOs, faith-based groups, rapidly responding government and corporate groups, international groups, social networking communities as occurred in Haiti, and other resilient networks to locate and notionally send aid to Southern California and Baja California

Additional objectives included stressing connections and capacity of social networking sites and Twitter to determine network and capacity load limitations, as well as the ability to filter “noise” from valuable information if needed to ensure the delivery of information and requests for help could be both understood and managed.

Do you remember CNN and the other major news outlets carrying real-time interviews with citizen journalists via Skype immediately after the Chilean Earthquakes?  A laptop computer with a camera and audio kit, and the world was getting on-the-scene reports from Conception as events unfolded – hours and days before news crews could get on the scene.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR:  “Indeed, we will have more breaking news coverage of this Chile earthquake, as you would expect. We are going to check on next what’s happening on the Internet. We have social network sites busy talking about the disaster. We’re going to of course bring you what they’re saying.”

We hope to ultimately ‘connect the dots’ for data fusion and pattern recognition in homeland security and homeland defense” said Eric Frost, director of San Diego State’s Immersive Visualization Center (VizLab).

 The Future of Social Networking in Disasters

There are a few obvious problems we need to get through before twitter, or any other instant messaging service such as SMS, eMail, or other means of interactive and non-interactive messaging are completely suited to the task.

Messaging systems require access to network.  Without 3G, LTE/4G, WiFi, or terrestrial Internet access the systems won’t work.

Until every man, woman, child, and automated tripwire has access to a messaging-enabled wireless device, we will still have some shortfalls.

Look how thoughtfully this training simulation has been designed. There are reasons why Californians survive their turbulent environment.” (from Wired Magazine review on X24)

Yes, this is true.  The more prepared we are, the more effectively we can respond, and recovery from disasters.  The more tools available, both intellectual and mechanical, the greater our chances of survival and recovery.

Keep your eyes on organizations such as InRelief.Org, and participate in upcoming disaster response exercises as able.  Maybe trite, but in reality, the life you save might be your own or a loved one.

Managing Disasters with Internet Utilities

Fire season is here. Southern California fire departments and forestry services are urging residents to cut back brush on their properties and create “defensible space” Burbank is in a High Risk Period for Wildfirebetween the dry chaparral and their homes. Local news stations have spooled their resources to bring fire-related journalism to the population. And, we have already seen extreme technology such as DC-10s and 747s dumping insane amounts of Foscheck and water to quickly knock down fires which have popped up early in the season.

Southern California has fires, just as Kansas has tornadoes and Florida has hurricanes. Disasters are a natural part of nature and life. How we deal with natural disasters, our ability to survive and overcome challenges, and how we restore our communities defines our society.

Technology tools in place or being developed are having a major impact on our ability to react, respond, and recover from disaster. In the early stages of any disaster, communication is key to both survival and response. As nearly every person in the world is now tethered to a wireless device, the communication part isDefensible space to avoid brush fires becoming much easier, as even the most simple handset will support basic features such as text messaging and voice communications.

Getting the Message Out

Over the past 25 years the world has adopted Internet-enabled communications in a wide variety of formats for everything from email to citizen journalism. It is hard to find an event occurring anyplace in the world that is not recorded by a phone camera, YouTube video, blog, or real time broadcast.

In the 2008 Santa Barbara Tea Fire students from UC Santa Barbara used Twitter to warn fellow students and local residents to get out of the fire’s path as it raced through 2000 acres and more than 210 houses within the city limits. While it is not possible to put a statistic on the value of Twitter on evacuations and emergency notification, interviews following the fire with students revealed many had their initial notification through Twitter lists, and indicated they were able to get out of areas consumed in the fire (while screaming the heads off to others in the neighborhood to get out) before public safety officials were able to respond to the fire.

NOTE: I was driving through Santa Barbara (along the ‘101) during the initial phase of the fire, and can personally verify the fire moved really, really fast through the city. It looked like lava streaming out of a volcano, and you could see houses literally exploding as the fire hit them and moved through… I wasted no time myself getting through the city and on the way to LA.

Houses in Burbank's Verdugu MoutnainsThis article will not review all the potential technologies or software becoming available for emergency notifications, however we will look at the basic utility enabling all the great stuff happening to keep our citizens safe. The Internet.

Internet’s Utility is Now Bigger than Individuals and Companies

We all remember the infamous interview with Ed Whitcare, former CEO at AT&T.

Q: How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google, MSN, Vonage, and others?

A: How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This statement, clearly indicates many in the internet network and service provider business do not yet get the big picture of what this “4th Utility” represents. The internet is not funny cat videos, porn, corporate web sites, or Flickr. Those features and applications exist on the Internet, but they are not the Internet.

Internet, broadband, and applications are a basic right of every person on the planet. The idea that two network administrators might have an argument at a bar, and subsequently consider the possibility of “de-peering” a network based on personalities or manageable financial considerations borders on being as irresponsible as a fire department going on strike during a California wildfire.

From a utility, the Internet has value. Just as electricity, water, or roads. The utility must be paid for either before or after use, however the utility cannot be denied to those who need the service. When a city grows, and attracts more traffic, residents, and commerce, the intent is normally not to restrict or control the process, you build better roads, better infrastructure, and the people will eventually pay the price of that growth through taxes and utility bills. The 4th Utility is no different. When it gets oversubscribed, it is the carrier’s responsibility to build better infrastructure.

Disputes between network administrators, CFOs, or colocation landlords should never present a risk that SMS, Twitter, email, or other citizen journalism could be blocked, resulting is potential loss of life, property, and quality of life.

Communicating in the Dangerous Season

Fire season is upon us. As well as riots, traffic congestion, government crackdowns, take downs, and other bad things people need to know so they can react and respond. The Internet delivers CalTrans traffic information to smart phones, SMS, and web browsers to help us avoid gridlock and improve our quality of life. Twitter and YouTube help us understand the realities of a Tehran government crackdown, and Google Maps helps guide us through the maze of city streets while traveling to a new location.

We have definitely gone well past the “gee whiz” phase of the Internet, and must be ready to deal with the future of the Internet as a basic right, a basic utility, and essential component of our lives.

Net neutrality is an important topic – learn more about network neutrality, and weigh in on how you believe this utility should be envisioned.

Under Siege in Jakarta

Entering any major hotel in Jakarta is a multi-stage process. First you pass by security staff near the entrance to the hotel at the street. Security staff look over the car, the passengers, and make a screening decision prior to allowing the car or taxi entrance into the hotel driveway. Then you have swarm of security staff checking under the hood, the passenger compartment, the trunk, and an examination of the under carriage with mirrors. Next, at the hotel lobby entrance, another metal detector, bag check, and a friendly “thank you” as you enter the lobby. Try to go to dinner, and another bag check at the hotel restaurant entrance.

May 14th, 2010.

JAKARTA, May 14 (UPI) — Indonesian police have accused arrested terrorist suspects of planning to assassinate the president and foreigners. The alleged targets included Americans during an Independence Day ceremony set for August.

The head of the country’s police force said the planned attack against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was supposed to happen at the State Palace on Aug. 17. The four suspects, one of them shot dead during the police raid, were then going to declare Indonesia under the Islamic religious Sharia law.

July 18th, 2009. Investigations continued Saturday into the Friday bombings at two hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia that left nine people dead and at least 50 injured. Little information about the bombings is being released to the public. On Saturday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the sites where two bombs exploded at the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels.  

On Friday the president said the bombings were acts of terrorism but he made no statement during the visits

May 12th, 2010.

JAKARTA, May 12 (Jakarta Post) — The police’s counterterrorism squad has captured 17 terrorist suspects alive and shot dead five others in a series of raids conducted since Thursday last week. Spokesman for the National Police Insp. Gen. Edward Aritonang said the five suspects were killed in the latest raids on two separate places in Cililitan, East Java and in Cikampek in West Java on Wednesday. The police also arrested a suspect in Cikampek..

“We arrested two yesterday [Tuesday] in Jakarta,” Edward said as quoted by

Ritz Carlton Jakarta following terrorist bombingIn Jakarta you cannot walk into a major shopping mall – particularly one catering to foreigners, without going through a metal detector and passing by several security officers trained to identify suspect behavior. Drive through the city center, and you will pass dozens of trucks with army and police forces waiting on standby to respond quickly in the event an incident occurs.

All office buildings in the city center have similar security to the hotels, with multi-stage security checkpoints from the street to your office. Most are surrounded by barbed wire, high iron and concrete walls, and a density of security cameras that make London look weak.

Jakarta feels like a city under siege

In the United States a potential car bomber in Times Square results in hours of “expert” commentary on the cable news stations, most of it meaningless babble produced by experts who have no clue what is really happening, offering only their opinion based on the same information available to any normal citizen by reading accounts from UPI, Reuters, AP, or citizen journalists.

Americans are lead to believe we are the center of the war on terrorism, until you experience the level of security being delivered in a city like Jakarta.

“Muslims are not terrorists”

Indonesia, the fourth most populace nation in the world, is also the largest Muslim population in the world. Ordinary Muslims are not radicals, and my experience shows Indonesians treat each other with a level of respect and courtesy only dreamed about in a city like Los Angeles. Jakarta, as in any major city, has crime. However, having walked around most areas of Jakarta, and several other Indonesian cities, you do not feel threatened at the same level as a Caucasian may feel walking around East or South Central LA, parts of Brooklyn, North Philadelphia, or Washington D.C.

The terrorists in Indonesia, as in most of the world, keep invisible, hiding in plain sight until their button is pushed to produce their violence.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 19th 2009 (AP) — The terrorist attacks that struck two luxury hotels in the capital have shaken ordinary Indonesians who had grown more confident after waves of arrests had left the nation’s al-Qaida-linked militant network seriously weakened. Coming four years after the country’s last serious terrorist attack, Friday’s twin suicide bombings at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta unleashed a new wave of anxiety in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Co-workers in Indonesia are anxious to let foreigners know they are not terrorists. In any Indonesian office, you have a mix of Muslims, Christians, and indigenous religions represented among the staff. They all get along well, never argue over their ideologies or barbed wires surrounding a major hotel in central Jakartaphilosophies, but do occasionally compare notes on the difference in their faith and cultures. And of course there is a bit of friendly teasing and rivalry between those hailing from Sumatra, Java, Bali, or Kalimantan. Just like people from diverse cultures in any large country.

When a foreigner enters the conversation, the talk does eventually work its way into opinions on terrorism. Most people are afraid, and want everybody to know that Indonesians are not terrorists. Much like the United States, in a country with nearly 260 million people there will be incidents that are violent, and not representative of the population.

And they know Indonesia’s reputation as a sanctuary for terrorism is hurting their image.

Times Online, July 17th, 2009 — Manchester United will not play their match against an Indonesia Super League XI in Jakarta on Monday following today’s bomb attacks. The club hopes, however, that the game can be switched to Kuala Lumpur, having arrived there this morning.

At least nine people, including some foreigners, were killed and at least 50 were injured in two large explosions at luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital. Sir Alex Ferguson and his squad were due to fly to Jakarta tomorrow evening and to stay at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, one of the terrorist targets.

As an international community, we need to offer countries like Indonesia our support in finding terrorists, and eliminating the threat from their country, and the world. As an international community we will have much better success protecting the safety and security of all nations if we work together as an international community, not only on a government to government level – but also on a human level. It is not an issue of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, or Buddhists – it is a matter of accepting each other’s differences, and working together to improve our global quality of life.

Idaho’s white supremacist Christians are no better than Afghanistan or Pakistan’s Muslim fundamentalists – all distort and corrupt their claimed faith in the interest of power. And then preach their word through terrorism and violence against those who are not like them.

In Jakarta the siege continues. After a couple days security in the face of everybody becomes oddly comforting. When I go to sleep in my central Jakarta hotel room I feel that I am as safe as possible from violence directed at foreigners in my hotel, and I have no problem presenting my backpack for inspection at a shopping mall or office building. I am somewhat saddened society has come to this point, but I am very happy Indonesians are just as tired of violence as anybody else, and have finally put their foot down and begun securing their country.

Imagine having to pass through a metal detector and screening prior to ordering a latte at the Starbucks on San Fernando Rd in Burbank.  That is Jakarta.

Digital Africa 2010 and Cloud Computing in Developing Countries

At the Digital Africa Summit 2010 in Kampala, Uganda, discussion is rightly focused on both telecommunications policy and economic development. Cloud computing is a topic heard among sidebar Near Kampala Uganda and Digital Africa 2010discussions, although it has yet to hit the mainstream of conference programming.

We will bring a series of reports from Digital Africa – it is a very exciting group of people who truly have the best interests of Africa as their key objective. Kicked off by Dr. Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya, Vice President of Uganda, the conference also included ministers of communications from Uganda, Niger, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso. Other nations are well represented with representatives from the private sector, government, and education.

With that many politicians, you would think protocol would prevent any level of innovation or open discussion. Not the case, it was a very cooperative environment.

Why is cloud important in developing countries?

It is a reasonable question, and a reasonable answer. The basic requirements in developing countries (beyond clean water and food) are infrastructure, education, jobs, and eGovernment (including banking). Nothing works without the infrastructure in place. In countries without stable electricity and limited telecom infrastructure, this has to be a high priority.

When building out the basic infrastructure in countries with a tremendous amount of sunlight, wind or solar energy makes a lot of sense. A lot more sustainable than running diesel generators, and as an unfortunate byproduct of global warming, more sunny days each year are available to provide power.

In rural areas we are talking about enough power to provide electricity for schools, internet kiosks or cafes, and wireless access points in city centers. 15kW would do it, and that is not unreasonable. It is not unreasonable if we are looking at low-powered NetBooks and terminals that do not have a large burden of local resources for processing power, memory, storage, and high performance video applications.

According to several presentations at Digital Africa, there is strong evidence that with each 10% of any population in Africa having access to mobile or Internet technologies, there is a corresponding 1.8% increase in that nation’s GDP. Evidence that simply bringing Internet and education to the rural and unwired population will increase the national wealth, and quality of life, by a an annual increase of 1.8%

Bring the cable to the school, wire up a NetBook-based LAN, connect via wireless to a local access point, and you have an entry-level connected school. An entry-level school that can access Stanford classes online, from rural areas of Niger. Once that is available, and children are able to diffuse wired intellectual exposure into their intellectual tacit knowledge library, and we are creating a much more level playing field.

OK, let’s drop the physical fiber runs and electricity planning for just a moment. We’ll save that for a future article.

Cloud Computing Driving the Community

If we can build a data center in a couple of national locations with stable power, and with international or local funding build out a basic data center infrastructure, then with a bit of creativity and planning we will expect Infrastructure virtualization (IaaS) as a basic component of the data center.

Utility processing, storage, and memory available for the community. With a bit of further planning, adding one or more good PaaS models on the infrastructure, and we have a resource that can be used to host academic applications, business applications, and government applications. Remember this is the early days of development – in most cases there is no infrastructure to start with, so we can design this as a best practice from Day 1.

Take the burden of infrastructure away from the schools, startup companies, and existing SMEs and offer a virtual data center utility to server both their office automation and IT needs, as well as granting access to the global marketplace.

A Novel Idea – the Mobile Data Center

Bringing education to the students in UgandaUConnect is a project run by several independent souls who want to bring education to the small rural school children in Uganda. A panel truck, lined with computers, and a server hosting a wide variety of eLearning applications, UConnect drives to schools and lets the children work on computers for a couple hours each week. A project bringing education to areas where just a year ago there would be no opportunity for children to be exposed to either computer technologies, or formal education materials.

Hero bringing education to children in rural UgandaThis is creativity, and a refusal to let the children grow up in a world where they are completely out of touch with their global community counterparts. A technology baby step for us, a giant leap for Ugandan children. But not good enough. We need to inspire children to succeed, and to do that children need exposure to the same intellectual tools as a child in Calabasas, California.

Cloud computing can, should, and will be part of that plan. It makes sense.

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