Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mesh conference keynote: Michael Geist on Digital Advocacy in Canada

Michael Geist talking on Digital Advocacy - these are notes from his talks (notable sites he mentioned); below are also notes from an interview with Rob Hyndman that followed his talk.

Three stories:

Speech from the Throne, the government talked about protecting culture which was a restrictive piece of copyright legislation they were planning to introduce.

Geist believes his Facebook group Fair Copyright for Canada was the beginning of a public swell of opinion that stopped the government from introducing the legislation. He traced how this happened. For at least a brief moment, people recognized copyright in Canada as an important issue.

Caucus meeting of Conservative party in 2006 - protest about the party's position on violence in Middle East. At least one person felt the media coverage misrepresented the party's position. Prominent Conservative blogger Stephen Taylor blogged about it and created a YouTube mashup with CBC coverage and the press coverage. Within 3 weeks CBC expressed regret to how it was presented.

Last year's Mesh conference there was a panel on the use of video esp. in the political world. We were shown the the Barak Obama video that shows Hilary Clinton as Orwellian figure, gained an enormous amount of attention; early indicator that video would be important in politics. A newer video putting in President of Tunisia rather than Clinton. This video was created 3 years before Phil De villa created his video; coincidence. Power that both were created for international audience.

These three stories show what we are seeing today from point of view of digital advocacy. Many people could come up with their own examples of advocacy we are seeing here. Advocacy with social media is the new normal. - uses Google Maps and Google Satellite as mash-up to chronicle violence in Tunisia. People can literally see down to the street corner where incidents are taking place.

The organizing power of these tools is chronicled in Clay Shirky's new book Here Comes Everybody. We have the same kind of organizing power that was previously limited to a select few.

Facebook group: No to Bill C-10 - has over 41,000 members - arguing for Net Neutrality

Senator George Allen's Listening Tour on YouTube received media attention.

Reporters Without Borders
are now fighting for bloggers (sometimes called "cyber-dissidents") who are being oppressed, not just mainstream media.

You can use these tools to educate e.g. Global Voices - voices from Africa

Obama campaign - "A More Perfect Union" video on YouTube, a 30+ minute speech, has now had almost a million views.

Fairytale mashup re: copyright A Fair(y) Use Tale took a year to create - allows Canadians to create their own do-not-call lists.

Twitter is enormously effective - a number of compelling stories are coming forward e.g. student who was arrested in Egypt alerted friends and families that he had been arrested via Twitter.

There is a need to localize efforts as well. Twitter is also being used on a local level to bring people together, as is Facebook.

Government 2.0 - citizens are using these tools to speak out on issues; government now starting to harness these tools to listen to citizens. E.g. U.S. Federal Trade Commission's site Protecting Consumers: The Next Tech-Ade used to gather feedback before holding hearings.

In Canada, the CRTC has similarly launched the New Media Broadcasting online consultation site

Follow-up Interview with Rob Hyndman:

The general public is now becoming engaged because they are starting to see they have something at stake. So many people are now creating their own content and are now starting to care about copyright.

Are policymakers in tune with what is happening? Some are very in tune. The problem about many of these policies is that they are greatly driven by politics, not policy. Many of the policy makers are aware of this and it is driving them crazy.

How does he know about this? Geist talks with many of the senior policy makers. He also obtains documents under Access to Information legislation.

In some ways, as a result individual voices right now can have more power than the policy makers.

Why has copyright become cool? It affects everyone in this room, our daily lives as consumers, and also all those turning to blogs and Facebook they keep bumping against copyright issues. Younger people have grown up in a world that the current Copyright Act didn't even think of.

The idea of digital advocacy presupposes that the government cannot interfere with the formation of online communities; how are governments trying to impede the use of the web? We are not to his knowledge talking about the Canadian government. Examples include China, Saudi Arabia, and to some extent Egypt. Governments from Thailand to Turkey have tried to block some content from sites like YouTube.

If people find governments trying to shape or throttle use, that is where the problem will be. Canadian government has to ensure the free flow of the Internet. If sites like are being shaped, other methods will have to be used to make information available to people.

Are we focusing on consumer rights to the detriment of ignoring political oppression? There is definitely a danger there; the people engaged online are more in tune with the consumer issues. However, there is the potential to take on the bigger issues, too. They have to hit the right sites in the right cycle. We can see these methods replicated in lots of areas as well.

Advocacy often means taking a stand against the other side; potential to be sued for things that you link to on the web. How do you deal with the issue? In Canada we don't have protection for the comments in our blogs. You try to be factual and try not to defame anyone; it reduces your chance of being sued and also makes you a more credible advocate. The more effective a blogger you are, the more likely you are to have a problem unfortunately.

Orphan works? Lots of copyrighted works you don't know the owner of; you try to find the owner and if you can't find them, you are in the possibility of being sued (in Canada, up to $20,000). In Canada we no longer have to register for copyright; no longer need to do that so copyright is assumed on any work. In the U.S., Lessig has proposed that copyright for these works is automatically only 17 years. This does not help us in Canada.

In Facebook, people often join groups just to show their friends what their political leanings are and how do you mobilize them to get out and give physical/monetary support? It is hard to get those people more engaged, but you can expose them to issues they wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to. If you get large enough and can get 1 in 10 people to sign a letter or send an email, that is powerful.


Mark said...

Wow, Connie! You did an amazing job capturing Michael's examples. Thanks!

Connie said...

Hi Mark: Thanks so much! I think our blog posts are nice complements of one another. If I am on the ball I'll match them up with a cross post to yours to make things easier for everyone....