Here's what's been going on while Bangladesh blocked social media

22 November 2015

Last Wednesday, on November 18th, the Bangladeshi government ordered blocking of social messaging apps until further notice - first blocking Whatsapp, Facebook, Messenger, and in a second directive later the same day shutting Line, Tango and Hangouts. The decision to block the sites came immediately after the Supreme Court upheld death penalty convictions against two former opposition leaders for their role in the 1971 Liberation War. Citing “security reasons” the government seems keen to try and restrict communications in a bid to dampen protests that might happen in response to the ruling - but in the meantime, there have been some interesting developments in use of social media in Bangladesh.

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Data journalism: inside the global future

12 November 2015

Last week, a new book Data Journalism: Inside the global future was launched, to which I contributed a chapter.

The chapter I wrote was called ‘So you found a unicorn- what now?’ which takes a look at the cultural changes needed to successfully integrate technologists into a newsroom. Taking lessons from the fabulous Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellowships, the brilliant work done by Code4South Africa, as well as my own experience working alongside journalists and technologists and anecdotes I’ve heard along the way, I argue that doing data journalism properly needs more than having tech skills - it’s a culture change, and a new way of collaborating within newsrooms.

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Tech, design and intimacy; first thoughts

19 October 2015

Last week, I was invited by IDEO to attend a small event on the theme “Design x Intimacy.” The theme intrigued me, as the intersection of design, technology and intimacy is one that I’ve not (consciously) put much thought into before.

The panel discussion that I was part of was recorded and will soon be online, I believe. It was a short discussion though, and in the lead up to it I benefited from a lot of smart people sharing their thoughts on the topic with me, so I wanted to share some of the discussions that we had.

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Open communities vs closed communities - what's more inclusive?

08 October 2015

I’m a big ‘open’ advocate, and inclusivity and diversity are very important to me. Over the past few months, though, I’ve been wondering more about “closed” communities - and, I have to say that I’m seeing more and more benefits of them. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I’m finding more and more that closed communities are actually more inclusive than many open ones. Let me explain why.

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Mourning in an age of internet

15 September 2015

Writing has always been cathartic for me. Normally it’s ranting, cathartic against anger or annoyance, but now, I need it to be cathartic against grief.

We’re in mourning. We’re in mourning on our laptops and in real life: offline, and online. Right now, the line between those two seems blurrier than ever. Tears running down my face; a genuine representation of the [crying] emoji. There are people sitting all over the world who met Michael in person, who shared fantastic experiences with him, who now have the internet to turn to for comfort. I’m one of the lucky ones: I’m in Berlin, along with a bunch of other people who loved him like I did. We met up in person, and hugged, and told stories of all the funny and happy times we had with him.

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Citizen-generated data as a tool for women's rights advocacy in Argentina

11 September 2015

I was in Buenos Aires over the past couple of weeks as part of a project I’m working on looking at citizen-generated data - essentially, datasets, whether qualitative or quantitative, that are actively contributed to by individual people. Sometimes this is for a particular social cause, like helping tag photos of deforestation - and other times, it’s contributing to a broader narrative, like sharing stories or experiences about a certain topic, like sexual harrassment.

Often when we talk about such initiatives, we say “anybody can contribute” - but how true is this really? While thinking about data on illegal abortions in Argentina, I came up against a potentially fascinating topic where data is very much needed, but very hard to collect.

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Chaos Communication Camp: on belonging, and fighting together

21 August 2015

Last week saw almost 5000 people converge on an old brick making factory just outside of Berlin, for the Chaos Communication Camp. It takes place only every four years - so it was a big deal for the hacker community.

It was a hacker camp, and I’m not a hacker. I work and spend time with hackers, activists, technologists, civil society groups, researchers who study technology and society - lots of people who are on the peripheries of hackerdom, but I’m not a hacker, and initially, this worried me slightly. I wondered whether I would feel out of place, and even though I had a talk accepted to speak at the camp, I wondered whether people there would be interested in what I had to say.

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Representing marginalised communities in data: CCCamp

16 August 2015

This week, I had the pleasure of attending and talking at the mind-blowing Chaos Communication Camp. I’ll write something more in detail about camp, but for posterity, here are the slides I used, and the video recording of the talk which is up online spectacularly quickly.

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Collusion Episode 3: Food

16 August 2015

The third full episode of Collusion is online! This episode, we looked at food: the role that food played in colonialism in the past, things that happen now that echo the power structures that we see in colonialism, like food speculation, and new technologies aimed at addressing world hunger.

I also came across a transcript that the crew at OpenTranscripts kindly did of the episode: it’s online here - along with our other episodes too, in full.

Links to research for the latest episode are up on the Tumblr - during the research for this episode, our main source of information seems to have been media articles and NGO reports rather than academic papers, so thankfully we didn’t have too many problems of important papers being behind a paywall.

As always, comments and criticism on the episode are welcome - we hope you like it!

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Bangladesh: a far cry from open government

07 August 2015

Today in Dhaka, Niloy Chakrabarti, or “Niloy-Neel” as he was known online, was murdered in his home. He is the fourth blogger to be murdered this year in Dhaka - all in a brutal way, with machetes, leading the media to report it with the unthinkable phrase - they were “hacked to death”.

There have been, and there will be, many more articles calling for changes in Bangladesh. For the government to respond in an appropriate way (Chowdhury had reportedly asked for police protection just three weeks ago, and had it denied). For Bangladeshi media to support the blogger community.

But I’m writing to a different audience: the international open government community. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw the agenda for a planned workshop run by UNDESA in Dhaka to be held at the end of the month. Its theme: “Open Government Data Sensitization, Gap Assessment, and Strategic Planning”. It made me laugh at the time - a ‘gap assessment’? Seriously?

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