War and video: Some thoughts on the flood of graphic “conflict clips” online

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(Bullet holes are seen on the windshield of a car used by insurgents after an attack at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. Ahmad Masood / Reuters)

The Guardian invited me to write a quick opinion piece on the explosion of new sources of graphic online conflict videos, and what that sudden availability of explicit, violent material means for news coverage and for each of us as individual witnesses. Snip:

I do believe that truth is a good thing. And to the extent that the flood of bloody videos pouring out of Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere right now document the truth, they are important. As commercial cable news networks (at least, in the US) evolve into something more like entertainment channels than the news outlets they began as, our access to these ugly streaming truths matters even more. Distant shots of missile drops are less likely to inspire empathy than a YouTube clip of a man in Libya whose lower jaw has just been blown off, who is still shouting for freedom. And yes, that video exists; the tireless Twitter chronicler Andy Carvin at NPR (@acarvin) tweeted it last week, along with many other videos like it. (I don’t know how he does it; I could not keep up his tolerance or his pace.)

But human beings do not have an endless capacity for empathy, and our capacity is less so in the mediated, disembodied, un-real realm of online video. At what point does access to war gore become harmful to the viewer, and at what point do each of us who observe this material for the purpose of reporting the story around it, become numb or begin to experience secondary trauma?

“I keep having to remind myself that we’re bearing witness,” Andy told me recently, when we were discussing how the volume of material was affecting him personally. “Otherwise, I think I would’ve lost my mind.”

Atrocity Exhibition(Guardian “Comment is Free” blog, thanks Matt Seaton)

Related: At the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has a piece up gathering thoughts on this topic from others around the web today.

Bahrain’s royals declare martial law

A day after it deployed foreign troops (including troops from Saudi Arabia), the ruling family in Bahrain has declared martial law, and instructed the soldiers and foreign fighters on the streets to “take all measures” to fight rebellion against its autocratic rule.

A standoff also appears to be worsening between the two key regional protagonists – Saudi Arabia and Iran – both of whom have accused each other of using the Arab world’s smallest state as an arena for their broader agendas.

The latest events seem to mark a new phase in the crisis that has paralysed the tiny kingdom since January. Demonstrators have drawn strength from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that saw autocratic regimes toppled by popular protests. However, unlike in either place, Bahrain’s protests have taken on a strong sectarian dimension.

Bahrain declares martial law as protesters clash with troops

Free dial-up ISP for Libyans

XS4ALL, a fantastic, hacker-friendly ISP in the Netherlands, has thrown open all its modem lines for free use by people in Libya when and if their network access gets blocked by the government. DPCosta sez, “It’s expensive (international call), but can be very handy in an emergency. The number is +31205350535 and the username/password are xs4all.”

XS4all biedt Libiërs internet/XS4ALL provides Internet Libyans (Thanks, DPCosta, via Submitterator)

Egyptian orders a pizza for the Wisconsin demonstrators

Ian’s, a pizzeria near the Wisconsin state capitol that is sympathetic to the demonstrators, has been facilitating the process of supporters around the world who want to send pizza to the protest. They’ve fielded an order from Egypt — now that’s solidarity.

The blackboard behind the counter lists the “countries donating” as “Korea, Finland, New Zealand, Egypt, Denmark, Australia, US, Canada, Germany, China, England, Netherlands, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy” and has the abbreviations for all 50 states listed below, with donating states circled.

From Cairo to Madison, some pizza (Thanks, Nextnik, via Submitterator!)

(Image: Untitled | Flickr – Photo Sharing!, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from wrestlingentropy’s photostream)

Realtime analysis of Libya tweets


Trendsmap’s Libya page is a real-time dashboard for all the media emerging from the Libyan uprising, with handy charts showing which subtopics are rising and falling (e.g., Venezuela’s down, Tripoli is peaking).

Libya Trends – Trendsmap (Thanks, Bufferout, via Submitterator!)

What does Libyan revolution mean for bit.ly?

DomainWire asks what will happen to the popular bit.ly URL shortener if Libya shuts down its Internet service (.ly is the country code for Libya). Several people have noted that no matter how cute the .ly suffix is to us in a domain name, it is ultimately controlled for a loony dictator, and therefore perhaps not suitable as a piece of global network infrastructure.

But if Libya “shuts down” the internet rather than taking aim at a particular service (and it could take aim at bit.ly given its use to spread news about Libya on Twitter), what happens to anything on the .ly domain name?

We can look to what happened in Egypt for a very recent and relevant answer.

When Egypt stymied the internet the primary servers the ccTLD operators used were inaccessible as they were in Egypt. This meant they couldn’t resolve addresses.

In the case of the ASCII .eg domain name there were secondary servers that had cached the primary, meaning .eg domains were still accessible.

Is Bit.ly Toast if Libya Shuts Down the Internet?

(Image: Who’s Next…, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from showmeone’s photostream)

Could you make a Tahrir Square game about nonviolent revolutions?

Over on the Play This Thing games review blog, JZW wants to know why no one has made a game built around nonviolent revolutions.

Modern non-violent revolutions are very dramatic, very to the point, have excellent pacing, and are a perfect example of asymmetric struggle. You can interpret them as the state versus the people, or dictatorship versus the republic. But their most important aspect is the struggle between centralised technologies of the industrial age and distributed technologies of the information age. The state uses armed forces and television. The people uses crowd psychology and communication networks. The state exerts control by giving orders and withholding information. The people exerts control by spreading information and defying orders.

It’s also a fresh new challenge gameplay-wise, because you don’t get to give direct orders, and the situation can spin out of your control easily. You reach your goal by nudging people in the right direction one step at a time, giving them tools they need, and keeping them connected. It’s far more organic and fuzzy than the kind of direct control you can find in a first person shooter or a real-time strategy.

Tahrir: The Game (Play This Thing)

(Image: Feb4-12:49pm, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 89031137@N00’s photostream)

Egypt: Mubarak speaks, won’t run again, elections in September

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[Yes, they’ve Godwin’ed Egypt: A man carries a picture depicting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as Adolf Hitler during a protest in Cairo January 31, 2011. Mubarak overhauled his government on Monday to try to defuse a popular uprising against his 30-year rule but angry protesters rejected the changes and said he must surrender power. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic ]

On the 8th day of increasingly massive protests in Egypt calling for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president has just addressed the nation and the world: he will not run for presidency again, and will “speed up” elections scheduled months from now.

How the Egyptian people react to this is yet to be seen, but as I type this post, the endless ocean of demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square —who were heckling him during the speech—don’t seem satisfied: “We’re not leaving today, we’re not leaving Wednesday, we’re not leaving Thursday,” the crowd is chanting. They won’t leave, in other words, until Mubarak leaves.

“I will die in the land of Egypt,” said the Egyptian president during his address, meaning he won’t flee the country, as Tunisian president Ben Ali did after popular revolt there.

Fake Hosni Mubarak on Twitter breaks it down for us: “Read between the lines: I will steal as much as I can in the few months I have left as president.”

Al Jazeera item on speech here. Nick Kristof’s analysis here: “Clueless in Cairo.”

Nothing in Mubarak’s speech about unlocking the clampdown on press (such as Al Jazeera), or turning on communications again: internet and mobile remain down for nearly all users throughout the country.