Week in Review: November 18, 2015

by Muira McCammon

China: Government Temporarily Unblocks Facebook

According to a report by Global Voices, on November 11, Internet users from mainland China were able to access Facebook without using circumvention tools for approximately two days. During this window, the Taiwanese presidential front runner Tsai Ing-wen is said to have received tens of thousands of Facebook messages, the majority of which demanded that the island return to China. In response, Tsai said to her new friends from China, "Welcome to the world of Facebook!"  The social network had been blocked without interruption since 2009. 

Egypt: Egyptian Revolution Facebook Activist Faces Continued Legal Challenges
On Sunday, November 5, 2015, an Egyptian court announced that it would rule on activist Wael Ghonim's case in January 2016. Ghonim, a former Google employee, formerly ran the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook page and is at risk of being stripped of his Egyptian nationality for doing so. In 2011, he became a symbol of pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt, after the police detained him for 11 days to learn more about his role in maintaining the page. Afterwards, Ghonim spoke extensively about his experiences in the Egyptian penal system in this interview [AR].  He has since also given a TED Talk [EN] on the Arab Spring and was named by the World Economic Forum as one of its Young Global Leaders in 2012. His case has been covered by a number of international news outlets [FR], [DE]. In 2015, the Harvard Kennedy School welcomed Ghonim as a senior fellow at the Ash Centre for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

Facebook: CEO Mark Zuckerberg Discusses Evolving Policy on "Safety Check" 

On Friday, November 13, 2015, in the wake of the attacks in France, Facebook activated its "Safety Check" feature, which permitted users in Paris to confirm their status and let friends and family know they were alright. Previously, the Safety Check had only been used to help people affected by natural disasters, in countries such as Afghanistan, Chile, Nepal, and the Philippines; last week marked the first time that the feature was deployed in response to a terror attack. Many netizens criticized the company for not implementing the new feature following recent attacks in Lebanon, Turkey, and Kenya. One critic, Kadhim Shubber of the Financial Times, wrote about his concerns: "But things get trickier still. When is a country at war? [...] How often do bombs need to go off before Facebook says Safety Check can no longer be activated because there’s no clear beginning or end to the violence? We could reasonably agree that Syria is a country in the midst of a war but what about Afghanistan – is it safe enough now? In effect, Facebook is saying this service will be available when your country is safe enough for the peace to be shattered by an attack." Shubber's comments were largely in response to remarks made by Facebook's vice president of growth, Alex Schultz. Schultz stated, "During an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly 'safe.'" However, on November 17, 2015, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would begin to use Safety Check more frequently; that day, he activated it in the aftermath of the bombing in Nigeria. He said, "We're now working quickly to develop criteria for the new policy and determine when and how this service can be most useful."

Turkey: Government Blocks, Then Unblocks Reddit During Weekend 

On November 13, 2015, the Telecommunication Authority of Turkey (TIB) used Internet Law No. 5651 to block access to Reddit. Sources said that the site was blocked on the DNS level, and thus, Turks were still able to circumvent the ban by using a foreign DNS service. The website became accessible again on November 15. In an interview with Geektime, Istanbul-based Attorney Șebnem Ahi, who works in IT law at the Ahi Law Firm, explained that the Turkish government had not yet released the court order associated with the website, and thus, the cause of the block remains unknown. This lack of information did not stop Reddit users from wondering if a specific subreddit prompted the ban, and many questioned to what extent, if any, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been involved in the decision. The TIB confirmed the ban and released the following statement: “After technical analysis and legal consideration based on the Law Nr. 5651, ADMINISTRATION MEASURE has been taken for this website (reddit.com) according to Decision Nr. 490.05.01.2015.-252804 dated 13/11/2015 of the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication.”

Twitter: The Company Gives Diwali An Emoji of Its Own 

Twitter's Vice President of Media, APAC and MENA, Rishi Jaitly, announced that the company had decided to make an emoji to honor the Hindu festival, Diwali. He remarked, "The #HappyDiwali emoji is a delightful, colourful way to unite Indians all over the world and celebrate the festival of lights together on Twitter." The emoji features the traditional lamp or diya that is commonly used to celebrate the holiday. It was talked about extensively in a number of news outlets, including [IT], [TA], and [EN].