Our #UnFair love relationship with Mark Zuckerberg

In India, we as a society conflate prejudices and discriminations concerning skin, color, race and caste – despite denial from the state and various institution on various and numerous platforms. These frequently erupt into acts and events of personal and public mob violence across the country that lead to public humiliation, shame, torture and death. Across the years (August, 2015 to the present) we have been researching and independently documenting and collecting testimonies and evidences central to the concerns and issues of skin, colour, race and caste within the Indian sub-continental context.

Given the vast amount of research, data and knowledge documented and accumulated, we required a dissemination to a larger world of public. Further given the non-sponsorship or funding by any institution or individual, the digital became a medium available to share in a (somewhat) non-ownership mode, since January 2017 with responsibility (how can one profit on images, texts and videos of people being beaten up, shamed and tortured or by even by a mass majority professing one’s own ignorance of their existence). This process of dissemination began a year ago, through an easy and somewhat access to free online platforms of WordPress as a blog and on Facebook, ‘hyperlocal’ based on the creation of the performative abomination of a ‘skin’ – the identity: ‘Un-Fair Web

Being ‘Visible’:
Photographer, Sunil Gupta once spoke at JNU of making work where the work (in itself) was not possible to display and disseminate and thereby – make visible (with a reference to his photograph, of cum on a thigh). This process and multi-dimensionality of art lies in making and ‘being visible’ through intersubjectivity.

At #UnFair, we would take this ‘thought’ forward:
i). The making visible (or not) is subject to privilege (skin, colour, class, caste, race and gender) and thereby your mobile-ability of capital (birth, culture, economic, academic, institutional, national, skill, labour, etc.).
ii). Further in this ‘object’ driven, fungible and commodified world, what does it mean to make ‘work’ and ‘labour’, that is or not, buy-able/sale-able. How then does on be visible? What does ‘make visible’ in a world ‘real’ (as in not virtual) mean? Given that this world endures and survives on cooption, appropriation, colonization and subjugation. Further within the virtual and a digital – how, what and who becomes visible? What then becomes of our rights? If any?

Today while objects continue to propagate and create commodities of abstract values, fungible and ephemeral – the digital society fails to realise that our traditional rights and freedoms cannot always be defended by traditional thinking or traditional legal instruments. In a virtual and digital world, we become even more so ‘un-touch-able’ (through processes of discrimination and ‘Digital Dalitification’).

Digital Rights, Net Neutrality and Freedom of Information:
Today the entire framework for the regulation of the digital aspects of our societies is being built in a vacuum where politically expedient and populist policies are being put in place. Infrastructure and services of the digital age (the public space of a digital society) are privately owned and are provided across multiple jurisdictions. As a result, however, it becomes vastly easier for governments to decide not to regulate, but seek to achieve public policy goals (or be seen to be ‘doing something’) by putting pressure on internet companies to impose restrictions, free from the legal constraints of international law or national constitutions. The number of examples of restrictions on freedom of expression imposed as a result of government pressure is growing exponentially. Our freedom of expression is leaking through this gap between what governments can informally demand and what companies will accept. The same applies to other digital rights. In the midst of numerous parallel processes to adopt legislation on privacy, data protection, copyright, terrorism, net neutrality, internet blocking, child protection and so on, the unanswered question of the interaction of law, and a privately ordered public space remains to be exploited.

The rollback on Net Neutrality has happened. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman Ajit Pai successfully dismantles US net neutrality rules and has officially begun to undo Obama-era regulations on Internet service providers. The rules, passed in 2015, had placed cable and telecom companies under the strictest-ever oversight of the agency. As a result, Internet providers treat all web traffic equally and fairly. This means they can’t block access to any websites or apps, and can’t meddle with loading speeds. The end of net neutrality spells bad news for consumers, as well as for free speech. The advocacy group Free Press, which supports net neutrality, said Pai’s plan changes how consumers experience the internet. Without net neutrality, cable and phone companies carve the internet into fast and slow lanes, an ISP could slow down its competitor’s content and also block political opinions it disagrees with. The 2015 rules also included a ban on so-called paid prioritization: the idea that Internet providers shouldn’t give special treatment to apps and websites that pay extra. It is only time, before its impact is now felt globally.

Back home, here in India, a controversy over the government’s proposed rules and procedures for the Right to Information (RTI) Act overlooks the simple point that the goal right now should be to move on to a Duty to Publish rather than clean up the working of the RTI Act. Certain of the proposed changes have caused alarm among RTI activists. The provision that an RTI query would lapse if the questioner passes away while the query is being processed certainly could have ominous implications.

The surest way to prevent uncomfortable information surfacing on account of an RTI query from a pesky interlocutor would, indeed, be to bump him off. While this certainly could not have been the intent of either this or the previous government, the possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand, given the reality of repeated attacks and killings of RTI activists in different parts of the country. According to CIC’s annual report released last month, of all the cases in which an RTI application was rejected, nearly 40% didn’t even cite a relevant section of the RTI Act under which the information was denied. These denials are all categorised under a nebulous field called ‘other’. The Prime Minister’s Office alone rejected over 2,200 RTIs in this fashion in 2015-16. Perhaps some of those applications were indeed frivolous. But there were several cases where the information sought was just uncomfortable.

(Community) Knowledge and Commons:
The copyright model born in the 18th centaury post the industrial revolution of England and this can trace its history back to the renaissance and the making of the ‘I’ and ‘Artist’ and further creation of value hegemonies and institutional propositions of power. At #UnFair and Un-Fair Web we believe collaboration is a process of meaning creation and generation, through a call for action, addressing a shared concern through various stakeholders, communities and partners constructing multiple alternatives through an evaluative process, building a collective knowing – ‘Knowledge’. A rendering that we propose is working together with the other in cooperation (bringing into action/contact), against the constructed norm – ‘co-labor’ and ‘co-labor-ableing’. ‘Co-labor-ableing’ thus may construct and build an empowering and enabling “commune” from within, one that owns the means of production and controls the modes of dissemination’ through a constant negotiation between the co-laborers and a ‘commune’ ownership of the production thereby no longer on constructing a communication/message/code derived from and only speaking back to a particular class. Further, this process allows each to contribute, each to their own personal means, time, purpose and commitments. It is in this process of co-laboring that we believe, its dissemination also lies within the domain of the creative commons.

Digital labor theorists have come to borrow the idea of a ‘general intellect’ from Marx’s Grundrisse: a creative hive of interconnectivity that produces endless value for a select few. In his essay ‘In Search of the Lost Paycheck’, Ross calls this “the vast network of cooperative knowledge that is the source and agent of the cognitive mode of production.” In the process of creating our digital selves—listing our habits and preferences, choosing to ‘like’ and retweet certain items, and amassing followers—we allow businesses to extract value from our preferences, personality, and relationships. In highlighting this, Laurel Ptak has been mulling over the manifesto Wages for Facebook for over a year now. “What might be possible if we tried to mobilize the idea or the conversation around wages for Facebook?” Amid the campaign paraphernalia was an iPad displaying a silently scrolling web page with text in all caps: HEY SAY IT’S FRIENDSHIP. WE SAY IT’S UNWAGED WORK. WITH EVERY LIKE, CHAT, TAG OR POKE OUR SUBJECTIVITY TURNS THEM A PROFIT. THEY CALL IT SHARING. WE CALL IT STEALING. WE’VE BEEN BOUND BY THEIR TERMS OF SERVICE FAR TOO LONG—IT’S TIME FOR OUR TERMS.

In the digital age, a lot depends on whether we actually own our stuff, and who gets to decide that in the first place. In ‘The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Age’, Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz walk us through a detailed and highly readable explanation of exactly how we’re losing our rights to own and control our media and devices, and what’s at stake for us individually and as a society. Perzanowski and Schultz present compelling evidence that many of us are unaware of what we’re giving up when we ‘buy’ and consume digital goods. The authors carefully trace the technological changes and legal changes that have, they argue, eroded our rights to do as we please with our stuff. Among these changes are the shift towards cloud distribution and subscription models, expanding copyright and patent laws, Digital Rights Management (DRM), and use of End User License Agreements (EULAs) to assert all content is ‘licensed’ rather than ‘owned’.

While copyright, with its ever-expanding range of restrictions and harsh punishments for those who overstep the mark – even unwittingly – hardly promotes exchange. An absolutely terrifying proposal emerges as the EU Commission’s proposed copyright directive poses a threat to the internet’s fundamental interconnectedness. The ‘link tax’ features some of the most impractical and extreme expansions of copyright rules ever seen. These are the ‘value gap’ proposal to require Internet platforms to put in place automatic filters to prevent copyright-infringing content from being uploaded by users (Article 13) and the equally misguided ‘link tax’ proposal that would give news publishers a right to compensation when snippets of the text of news articles are used to link to the original source (Article 11). Copyright has already been bent out of shape; the original theory was to use copyright to protect the content creator and allow them to make back any investment on their idea, along with a healthy profit, over a fixed, 14-year period. However, with the current period set at 70 years, not only are copyright laws strangling innovation, but now these additional reforms seek to make criminals of everyone who does not pay a fee to simply link to someone else’s work. In short, you may soon face a charge each time you publish a link to an article. From individual bloggers, to large publications, big media seeks to control how we direct people online, make citations on Wikipedia, or simply recommend a game or movie. But it doesn’t stop there: saving photos to online shopping lists on sites such as Pinterest, or sharing any news article over Facebook or Twitter aren’t in any way exempt. As it stands, there are no exceptions for non-commercial use. In fact, even search engines, which are essentially a long list of links gathered around whatever query you enter, could also be subject to the link tax.

Across the world, people, companies, and institutions also use noncommercial copyright licenses to make their work available to the public for noncommercial use. Creative Commons licenses become allies of artists who are struggling for recognition and remuneration, thanks to their broad permissions and explicit encouragement to share and enjoy, which promotes and enhances that exchange – and helps to generate that crucial financial return too. They do so because they want to share and allow re-use of their work. After 12 years, it’s easy to see Creative Commons’ impact on the world. 14 countries have made national commitments to open education. Governments, foundations, institutions, and even corporations need someone pushing them in the direction of sharing. And CC has stepped up to lead. The main objective of the project is to promote a global debate on ownership, copyright management, and to diffuse legal and technological tools (such as licenses and the services related) which may and can allow for ‘some rights reserved’ model in cultural products distribution.

Identity Digital and Virtual:
The first form of identity or individual consensus records dates back nearly 4000 B.C., with the Babylonians. We think they primarily used this for determining how much food they would need per person. Not much has changed since the Babylonians – we still use a census to determine macroeconomic decisions such as domestic social welfare needs and foreign aid. How we conduct the census differs from country-to-country and region-to-region. Up until now, analog identities have worked well for western civilization. With the rise of modern globalization and growth of e-commerce, businesses and governments are eager to find new and innovative ways to verify the identities of their new customer base – everyone, everywhere. The increase in attention may be useful for people who are often referred to as ‘the next billion users’, a Silicon Valley term for people living in and around the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China). Often we think about growing up in a country where our first ID is issued at birth. With no legal identity to help verify themselves, millions of would-be customers are unable to use our products and services. A digital identity is an online or networked identity adopted or claimed in cyberspace by an individual, organization or electronic device. These users may also project more than one digital identity through multiple communities. In terms of digital identity management, key areas of concern are security and privacy. If the digital economy takes our analogue products and services and transforms them for the digital channel, the shared economy takes our analogue experiences and removes the burden and expense of ownership. The shared economy is like a modern timeshare without the time requirement or the awkward marketing pitch. However, like all new areas, the transition into it is still built on analogue models. On a daily basis, this same type of information is used to identify the people who deliver the packages ordered through major online retailers, drive for ride-sharing services, run errands for on-demand task services and more. As it turns out, companies today are far too reliant on driver licenses, passports, birth certificates and even a basic background check. These old methods can’t track relationships and are not very informative of a person’s trustworthiness or reputation. The old methods can’t keep pace with a new generation of criminal and fraudster and, typically, are not very secure.

As technology is on the cusp of a major paradigm shift in the field of identity. Blockchain will supposedly create a major revolutionary transformation in this area — but many questions of how still remain unanswered. Companies, governments and NGOs are beginning to tackle this question in ways that hint at the profound impact this will have on how we live our lives. Their promise is that our identities will be consolidated so that we have complete control over who accesses that information. This will protect us from increasingly sophisticated fraud and theft. It also will create unprecedented access for the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ who are still off the grid. Imagine crossing any border, and qualifying for any service, with immediate access to your funds and accounts, all with one simple digital ID. Almost everything we do today leaves an increasingly digital signature. Yet this signature is scattered among different services that use it primarily for their, rather than our, benefit. One first-order promise of blockchain is to rebalance that dynamic so we can reclaim and consolidate our digital identities. As Jaron Lanier writes in Who Owns the Future, “You don’t get to know what correlations have been calculated about you by Google, Facebook, an insurance company, or a financial entity, and that’s the kind of data that influences your life the most in a networked world.” Lanier calls these services siren servers, and notes that we are eerily comfortable giving away personal data in a trade for convenience.

The implications of this paradigm are troubling: We have no control. Each service has an abstracted model of who you are built into it. This information can be bought and sold, and also easily breached, without your consent. This setup is convenient (e.g. we get better-targeted recommendations), and also dangerous (e.g. we can be profiled and manipulated).

The segmentation is inefficient. What if all these data repositories played nice with each other? For instance — if your passport, driver’s license, bank and email were integrated — you could travel internationally, ensure your credit cards work, receive curated recommendations and alert people of your whereabouts, without any work required on your end. You could prevent identity theft. You could move around without identification.

We do most of the work for none of the benefits. This is Lanier’s primary contention. As has been noted, if services like Google Search are free, that is because we are not the customer, we are the product. In much the same way that Uber drivers occupy a grey area between employees and contractors, we act somewhat like workers for Amazon and Facebook, yet are only compensated with convenience, not payment, for giving up our data.

If you were to look at a complete model of your digital self, it would be a complex relational web. At the most granular level of that web are nodes, each representing actions (a text, a selfie, a purchase…). The connections between those nodes are formulas that infer relationships, record patterns and predict behavior. If you zoom out, you get the sub-web of a given service (Instagram account, Homeland Security profile, medical history…). These sub-webs then join together to form the larger web that is your digital identity.


The Digital and Virtual World:
Eyetracking has been a tool used by Nielson and various other consulting agencies and think-tanks in developing analytics for most governments, corporations and as well as consumer brands. It is the same methodology used by all web-based social media in throwing up content [(un)paid / advertising / media, etc.] during your browsing and web interactions. Search engines and social media accounts, most often also have access to one’s personal data through emails, photos, contact detail, banking accounts and other identifying documents. Further given the access to intimate personal data, through interconnected ‘smart’ devices, corporations also have access to location mapping of an individual in a geo-mapped and tagged world. This, now allows for the design of algorithms and bots that automate processes in making data and information available at one’s finger tips – for example as “people you may know” function on your Facebook accounts, have perhaps just exchanged pleasantries during a social occasion, or an exchange of details (data points i.e: email id’s, phone numbers etc.). Fusion reports that Facebook was drawing from the location of users smartphones to inform its suggestions – a ‘privacy disaster’. It quoted a spokesperson as saying that location information was “only one of the factors” Facebook used to determine people who may know each other. “Seriously, I’ve had enough reporters ask me, freaked out, why Facebook is recommending their protected sources,” tweeted Violet Blue, a reporter on cybercrime, on Tuesday. But Fusion then published an updated statement from Facebook, which said it did not use location data – though it had briefly in the past. Fusion’s Kasmir Hill wrote that she had “reportorial whiplash”, “I’ve never had a spokesperson confirm and then retract a story so quickly.” Facebook has denied using location data to suggest potential friends amid questions about the unsettling accuracy with which it puts forward “people you may know”. The feature has been known to suggest users who have no or few mutual friends on the network – and, reportedly, nothing in common beyond having shared the same physical space – prompting concerns about how it works.

All marketing gurus speak, of a consumer’s ‘black box’. All corporations spend heavily on market research and then consequently on messaging through ATL and BTL communication through advertising in developing mass consumption. Today’s new emerging technology of ‘virtuality’ now offers technological giants a further insight into one’s own mind via a pseudo-quasi sensorality using haptic and virtual reality headsets, interactions and games. Virtual reality offers that penetrative perspicacity into the medulla oblongata and our socio-cultural political selves by tapping into what makes us tick. A simple virtual interaction based on principals of ‘play’ will revel to an algorithm our tastes, preferences and kinks. Add to this our personal banking accounts, emails photographs, geo-mapping and eye tracking we now become as objects ‘read’ and exploited by the objects we use or the books we read. Data extracted from humans (from humble beginning as a crowd sourced project like captcha) is used to power Machine Learning and feed Artificial Intelligence using ‘Big Data’. We already hear of Apple joining other tech companies, including Facebook as a founding member of the AI initiative. Companies will work on research projects, AI best practices and more. Six independent individuals are also joining the board based on their past achievements when it comes to AI. Dario Amodei (OpenAI), Subbarao Kambhampati (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence & ASU), Deirdre Mulligan (UC Berkeley), Carol Rose (American Civil Liberties Union), Eric Sears (MacArthur Foundation) and Jason Furman (Peterson Institute of International Economics) will participate in the discussions. Even the E.U. member states today have already agreed on an ambitious new open-access (OA) target. All scientific papers should be freely available by 2020, the Competitiveness Council—a gathering of ministers of science, innovation, trade, and industry—concluded after a 2-day meeting in Brussels. But some observers are warning that the goal will be difficult to achieve. How much of this is available and understandable in a ‘langue – language’ to a lay public is questionable.

Artificial intelligence is a part of our daily lives, but the technologies can contain dangerous biases and assumptions—and we’re only beginning to now understand the consequences. It was recently discovered that a complex program used in image recognition software was producing sexist results — associating cleaning or the kitchen with women, for example and sports with men. The developers were disturbed, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising. After all, Computers and software, even at their most sophisticated, are still in essence input-output systems. AI is ‘taught’ by feeding it enormous amounts of pre-existing data—in this case, thousands upon thousands of photos. If it began to associate certain genders with certain activities, it is because it was outputting the bias inherent in its source material—that is, a world in which pictures of people in kitchens are too often women. As machines are getting closer to acquiring human-like language abilities, they are also absorbing the deeply ingrained biases concealed within the patterns of language use. Joanna Bryson, a computer scientist at the University of Bath and a co-author, said: “A lot of people are saying this is showing that AI is prejudiced. No. This is showing we’re prejudiced and that AI is learning it.” In May last year, a stunning report claimed that a computer program used by a US court for risk assessment was biased against black prisoners. The program, Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (Compas), was much more prone to mistakenly label black defendants as likely to reoffend – wrongly flagging them at almost twice the rate as white people (45% to 24%), according to the investigative journalism organisation ProPublica. The promise of machine learning and other programs that work with big data (often under the umbrella term ‘artificial intelligence’ or AI) was that the more information we feed these sophisticated computer algorithms, the better they perform. Last year, according to global management consultant McKinsey, tech companies spent somewhere between $20bn and $30bn on AI, mostly in research and development. Investors are making a big bet that AI will sift through the vast amounts of information produced by our society and find patterns that will help us be more efficient, wealthier and happier. But, while some of the most prominent voices in the industry are concerned with the far-off future apocalyptic potential of AI, there is less attention paid to the more immediate problem of how we prevent these programs from amplifying the inequalities of our past and affecting the most vulnerable members of our society. When the data we feed the machines reflects the history of our own unequal society, we are, in effect, asking the program to learn our own biases.

The most famous case of AI breaking bad was Microsoft’s experimental Twitter bot called Tay. Created in 2016 as a female persona, it was supposed to learn how to interact with people by interacting with people. But, again, people = shitheads, and some folks jammed Tay with sexist and racist remarks. Within hours, Tay was sex-chatting with one user, tweeting, “Daddy I’m such a bad naughty robot” and telling another user that feminists “should all die and burn in hell”. Microsoft hit delete on Tay within 24 hours. Later Facebook chose to shut down its own AI chatbot/robot after it began ‘speaking its own language with its counter-part’. The company stated that “our interest was having bots who could talk to people”, researcher Mike Lewis told FastCo. (Researchers did not shut down the programs because they were afraid of the results or had panicked, as has been suggested elsewhere, but because they were looking for them to behave differently.) The chatbots also learned to negotiate in ways that seem very human. They would, for instance, pretend to be very interested in one specific item – so that they could later pretend they were making a big sacrifice in giving it up, according to a paper published by FAIR. Further, Pro Publica uncovered that Facebook’s ad targeting system, which groups users together based on profile data, offered to sell ads targeting a demographic of Facebook users that self-reported as ‘Jew Haters’. ‘Jew Haters’ started trending on Twitter when the piece went viral, and by Friday Facebook announced it had removed ‘Jew Haters’ and other similarly ranked groups from its advertising service by temporarily excluding its entire self-reported education and employer fields. With the announcement, the company offered a predictably anodyne apology and explanation. As Facebook explains, the categories were algorithmically determined based on what users themselves put into the Employee and Education slots. Enough people had listed their occupation as racist bile like ‘Jew Hater’, their employer as ‘Jew Killing Weekly Magazine’, or their field of study as ‘Threesome Rape’ that Facebook’s algorithm, toothless by design, compiled them into targetable categories. Facebook’s response is repetitious in emphasizing that users themselves self-reported the data. But claiming ignorance of its own algorithms lets Facebook equivocate more obvious questions: What does it tell us about Facebook that Nazis can proudly self-identify on their platform? Why can’t Facebook’s algorithms determine that words like ‘rape’, ‘bitch’, or ‘kill’ aren’t valid occupational terms? Facebook says its AI can detect hate speech from users—so why, seemingly, did Facebook choose not point its AI at the ad utility?

NEWS: Media, Medium and Impact:
The Media’ as we know it is not that old. For most of our history the News was, literally, the plural of the ‘New’ thing(s) people heard about and shared, and was limited by physical proximity and word-of-mouth. Journalistic objectivity, like many Western articles of faith, began as a late 19th-century ideal with very different aims than we attach to it today. Originally, journalism was nothing more than a megaphone for the powerful: the king dictated, and the reporters wrote it down. Newspapers were filled with pronouncements from on high: declarations of war, changes in navigation routes, calls to prayer, that kind of thing. Since the invention of the printing press, the news consisted of notes posted in public places and pamphlets distributed to the small number of people who could actually read them. The news continued to have competitors in the battle for attention, and because of this it continued to flirt with hyperbole. More than a century later, we’ve gained a fully professionalized PR and information industry and lost every modern illusion about Truth with a capital T, and objectivity has come to mean precisely the opposite. What gets reported, we believe, shouldn’t be determined by the press but by “what’s happening in the world”. The drive to sell (papers, ads, products) is naturally somewhat at odds with the idea of editorial accuracy and measured factual reporting. Journalistic standards, libel laws, and industry-shaming became common mechanisms to help curb this slide into sensationalism. Yet something happened recently when the news met the internet and began migrating into our pockets: it started losing the battle for our attention. Social Media is one of the primary reasons there has been a double-digit drop in newspaper revenues, and why journalism as an industry is in steep decline. It is now how a majority of the world get news.

While here in India while we witness a proliferation of new digital news agencies one underestimates the produced messaging and content that appears egalitarian and diverse. On a closer examining of the voice and tone of reporting it is absolutely clear that the produced content and the professed politics remains manufactured by a class and caste of person insuring a power hegemony. Today one witnesses investments by the Omidyar Networks which is the parent company of PayPal, a corporation pioneering and invested in ‘FinTech’ and Digital Financial Identities. Further one sees the Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation and it board member invest in multiple networks, yet what remains is a lack of caste inclusion and voice in the editorial and reporting. This one can further trace back to the withdrawal of scholarships of minority communities at journalist and media education and training institutions.

The pursuit of digital readership has broken the New Republic — and an entire industry. Silicon Valley has infiltrated the profession, journalism has come to unhealthily depend on the big tech companies, which now supply journalism with an enormous percentage of its audience — and, therefore, a big chunk of its revenue. Dependence generates desperation—a mad, shameless chase to gain clicks through Facebook, a relentless effort to game Google’s algorithms. It leads media outlets to sign terrible deals that look like self-preserving necessities: granting Facebook the right to sell their advertising, or giving Google permission to publish articles directly on its fast-loading server. In the end, such arrangements simply allow Facebook and Google to hold these companies ever tighter. What makes these deals so terrible is the capriciousness of the tech companies. Quickly moving in a radically different direction may be great for their bottom line, but it is detrimental to the media companies that rely on the platforms. Facebook will decide that its users prefer video to words, or ideologically pleasing propaganda to more-objective accounts of events—and so it will de-emphasize the written word or hard news in its users’ feeds. When it makes shifts like this, or when Google tweaks its algorithm, the web traffic flowing to a given media outlet may plummet, with rippling revenue ramifications. The problem isn’t just financial vulnerability, however. It’s also the way tech companies dictate the patterns of work; the way their influence can affect the ethos of an entire profession, lowering standards of quality and eroding ethical protections. While there is a rapid takeover of traditional publishers’ roles by companies including Facebook, Snapchat, Google, and Twitter that shows no sign of slowing, and which raises serious questions over how the costs of journalism will be supported. These companies have evolved beyond their role as distribution channels, and now control what audiences see and who gets paid for their attention, and even what format and type of journalism flourishes.

Technology platforms have become publishers in a short space of time, leaving news organizations confused about their own future. If the speed of convergence continues, more news organizations are likely to cease publishing—distributing, hosting, and monetizing—as a core activity. Competition among platforms to release products for publishers is helping newsrooms reach larger audiences than ever before. But the advantages of each platform are difficult to assess, and the return on investment is inadequate. The loss of branding, the lack of audience data, and the migration of advertising revenue remain key concerns for publishers. The influence of social platforms shapes the journalism itself. By offering incentives to news organizations for particular types of content, such as live video, or by dictating publisher activity through design standards, the platforms are explicitly editorial. The “fake news” revelations of the 2016 election have forced social platforms to take greater responsibility for publishing decisions. However, this is a distraction from the larger issue that the structure and the economics of social platforms incentivize the spread of low-quality content over high-quality material. Journalism with high civic value—journalism that investigates power, or reaches underserved and local communities—is discriminated against by a system that favors scale and shareability. At the end of 2016, battered by the negative publicity for Facebook around “fake news,” Mark Zuckerberg retreated from his rigid position that his creation was “just a technology company,” to acknowledge that it was a “new kind of platform”. Technology companies including Apple, Google, Snapchat, Twitter, and, above all, Facebook have taken on most of the functions of news organizations, becoming key players in the news ecosystem, whether they wanted that role or not. The distribution and presentation of information, the monetization of publishing, and the relationship with the audience are all dominated by a handful of platforms. These businesses might care about the health of journalism, but it is not their core purpose. Today, as part of the Facebook Journalism Project, Facebook will begin to test displaying new publisher Trust Indicators through this module, established by the Trust Project, an international consortium of news and digital companies collaborating to build a more trustworthy and trusted press, as part of our ongoing efforts to enhance people’s understanding of the sources and trustworthiness of news on the platform. When Facebook Inc. wants to try something new, one of its first calls is to CNN. It was a key partner when Facebook introduced its news-reading app, Paper, in 2014. When the social network shuttered Paper soon after, transmogrifying it into a series of fast-­loading News Feed stories called Instant Articles, CNN remained on board. But strain is showing in the relationship. Facebook’s latest pitch to publishers such as CNN is for them to provide a regular stream of TV-quality, edited, original videos that will give Mark Zuckerberg’s company a chance to compete with YouTube to siphon some of the $70 billion pouring into TV ads each year. In exchange, the publishers can share some of the revenue for ads that roll in the middle of the videos. Facebook will control all the ad sales.

It’s getting tougher for CNN and others to view these arrangements as mutually beneficial. “Facebook is about Facebook,” says Andrew Morse, general manager of CNN’s digital operations. “For them, these are experiments, but for the media companies looking to partner with ­significant commitments, it gets to be a bit of whiplash.” WPP’s chief executive and founder Martin Sorrell said on Tuesday that Google and Facebook wield tremendous power and influence and, like any other media company in the world, should be held legally accountable for the content on their platforms. For instance, the control on traditional media is much more rigorous than a blog on Facebook. “They take position publicly that they are tech companies,” said Sorrell. “But they are not. Technology companies have to step up to the fact that they are media companies, admit it, get on with it and be responsible.

While platforms rely on algorithms to sort and target content. They have not wanted to invest in human editing, to avoid both cost and the perception that humans would be biased. However, the nuances of journalism require editorial judgment, so platforms will need to reconsider their approach. Greater transparency and accountability are required from platform companies. While news might reach more people than ever before, for the first time, the audience has no way of knowing how or why it reaches them, how data collected about them is used, or how their online behavior is being manipulated. And publishers are producing more content than ever, without knowing who it is reaching or how—they are at the mercy of the algorithm. “It’s this great, simple experience, and the technology is getting so much better for it: AI’s getting better, big data’s more accessible.” Tech companies have done a lot of experiments on bots. AS they are very excited about it, because it’s this great, simple experience, and the technology is getting so much better for it: AI’s getting better and big data’s more accessible. Today bots fill all these spaces between platforms — like, on different platforms, but also they fill in these gaps a little bit between things. A bot could notify you to catch you up on where you left off in a story while you were listening to it on the train into work.

The Associated Press has become the latest news organization to get into the user-generated content game, announcing on Tuesday the launch of a new service called AP Social Newswire. The new service works with the platform SAM to find, vet and verify content generated by users on social media and elsewhere. AP customers will be able to embed that content into their work. The feed will offer UGC on international and regional coverage as well as trending topics. The ability to track down witnesses, and verify the content they’re sharing online, is critical to covering breaking news and planned events. As the amount of visual material appearing online continues to grow, it becomes increasingly likely that powerful news imagery can be sourced from a member of the public. News organizations have limited resources, so any help they can get to discover essential content — and use their own resources elsewhere — is enormously helpful. Also, verification can be a challenge for a news operation without its own reporting resources in the part of the world where a piece of eyewitness media emerged. AP has that expertise, and very high standards, which are central to what the Social Newswire offers. According to the 2017 Reuters’ Digital News Report, less than half the population (43%) trust the media across all the 36 countries surveyed and almost a third (29%) actively avoids the news, rising to 38% in the United States. Instead of enriching their lives, our work depresses them. And underlying this loss of trust is a perception of media bias driven by polarisation. People cluster to media organisations that fit their belief, and dismiss other outlets. The internet, once thought to open the world up to all the information possible and bring people together, has instead drawn people into their own corners.

Now, one of the most confusing efforts to fund journalism in recent memory is inching closer to reality. Civil promises to use the technology to build decentralized marketplaces for readers and journalists to work together to fund coverage of topics that interest them, or for those in the public interest. Readers will support reporters using “CVL” tokens, Civil’s cryptocurrency, giving them a speculative stake in the currency that will — hopefully — increase in value as more people buy in over time. This, Civil, hopes will encourage more people to invest in the marketplaces, creating a self-sustaining system that will help fund more reporting.

Facebook in (y)our life:
Regional newspapers continue to struggle and local TV often falters, sometimes before it’s even begun but this emerging breed of news production seems to be thriving. Some are set up as news sites while others are blogs originally started to address a particular local issue, like a threat to close a local leisure center or to cover a specific planning concern. They then grow to cover different topics and become the go-to site for people to find out about what is happening in their area. Few have much funding and many are precariously organised, but sites like these are starting to become powerful tools for people who want to hold power to account. As cuts to local services become more widespread and the legislative climate shifts the ownership and delivery of public amenities into the private or community domain, then the citizens of this community, and others, are revealed by hyperlocal news media to be ready and able to articulate their concerns online and challenge those in power in the way that the local press had long thought was their sole privilege. Recent academic studies of online news consumers have taken a deeper, ethnographic approach to understanding reader behavior. Their findings show that counting story clicks is a misguided way to determine reader preferences. “People engage in online user practices that do not necessitate clicks but do express interest in news, such as ‘checking’, ‘monitoring’, ‘scanning,’ and ‘snacking,’” according to one study. This behavior is seen clearly when clicks are compared to the amount of time spent on new sites. In one study, local stories represented 9 percent of story clicks by readers. But measured in time spent, those stories accounted for 20 percent of their time on the site, about the same time readers spend on local news in print. For its newest survey, Pew contacted 2,000 adult Americans over the course of a week last year. They were asked twice a day whether they read news online within the past two hours and, if so, how they had come across the news and what outlet had produced it. Most of the time, people in the survey said they got their news either by going directly to a news organisation’s website or app, used 36 per cent of the time, or through social media, used 35 per cent of the time. Overall, 56 per cent of the time, people who followed a link to a news story within the past two hours could remember the name of the outlet. But they were much more likely to recall the source when the link came from a news organisation, with 78 per cent remembering the outlet’s name, than when it came through social media (52 per cent) or in an email or text from a friend (50 per cent).

The biggest player in Social Media is Facebook, and the biggest part of Facebook is the News Feed. The algorithm behind the News Feed is regularly tweaked and historically opaque — it is one of the most significant and influential pieces of code ever written. You can think of the algorithm as the News Feed Editor. (Twitter, Snapchat and Youtube all have their own editorial algorithms, but we’re focusing on Facebook here because of its sheer dominance.) The News Feed Editor is a robot editor, and it is far better at capturing attention than normal human editors. It can predict what you’ll click on better than anyone you know. It’s what professor Pablo Boczkowski of Northwestern has called “the greatest editor in the history of humanity”. The story of how one metric has changed the way you see the world. The world feels more dangerous. Our streets seem less safe. The assault on our values is constant. The threats feel real. The enemy is out there — just check your feed.

Facebook is what became of the ‘hyper-local’ notion. It just turned out that it wasn’t a geographic neighborhood but a socially connected one. Facebook provided a platform whereby individuals became reporters, editors, and publishers. In this regard, Facebook is delivering on the first task of the news organization. Some Facebook friends might express opinions, but more often they are reporting facts. What is more, because these facts are reported to social connections, they are actually accurate. Nothing binds one to the truth more than the accountability of an ongoing personal relationship. Do you ever hear it exclaimed, “I heard on Facebook that your train broke down and that turned out to be an exaggeration”? Facebook knows this. The company even calls it a ‘News Feed’. And it is peppered with other news stories coming from mainstream outlets your friends have shared. You can read it like a newspaper (postpost.com) or a magazine (Flipboard for the iPad). Even the games, jokes, surveys, and other attention-grabbing activities on Facebook have a long provenance in newspapers, which are full of games (crosswords and Sudoku), jokes (the comics), and polls. These are a long-standing part of the news experience. While everyone acknowledges the importance of local news. No one wants to admit that news organizations are helping to kill it.

Facebook now reaches a quarter of the world’s population. Two billion people. It’s a mind-boggling number, and it’s growing. So are questions about how Facebook will protect privacy or abet authoritarian oversight. Further Facebook’s collection of data makes it one of the most influential organisations in the world. Today it is also the largest network of ‘stringers’, the backbone of the NEWS and MEDIA industry.

Facebook has been an indispensable tool of civic engagement, with candidates and elected officials from mayor to prime minister using the platform to communicate directly with their constituents, and with grassroots groups like Black Lives Matter relying on it to organize. The company says it offers the same tools and services to all candidates and governments regardless of political affiliation, and even to civil society groups that may have a lesser voice. Facebook says it provides advice on how best to use its tools, not strategic advice about what to say.

When tech guru Will Cathcart took the stage at F8 to talk about news, the audience was packed. Some followed along on Twitter. Others streamed the session online. Journalists, developers, and media types all clamored to catch a glimpse of ‘Creating Value for News Publishers and Readers on Facebook’— value that has become the most coveted asset in the news business as Facebook becomes a primary way the public finds and shares news. As Cathcart kicked off the session, he took the captive audience to a Syrian refugee camp via Facebook’s new, innovative, and immersive 360 video experience. He didn’t say much about where the camp was (“I believe in Greece?”), nor anything about the camp situation. He didn’t offer the audio of the journalist describing the scene. The refugee camp is a placeholder. A placeholder, in fact, that has become so overused that it was actually the second time yesterday that Facebook execs waved their hands about the importance of media before playing a video clip of refugees. It could have been a tour of the White House, the Boston bombing, Coachella. It could have been anything to Facebook. It’s ‘content’. It’s a commodity. What matters to Facebook is the product it’s selling—and who’s buying is you and the news industry. What Facebook is selling you is pretty simple. It’s selling an experience, part of which includes news. That experience is dependent on content creators — you know, journalists and newsrooms — who come up with ideas, use their own resources to realize them, and then put them out into the world. All of which takes time, money, and skill. For its ‘media partners’. As traditional news organizations faced the maelstrom of the digital revolution, many noticed that it was not just the stuff that editors had deemed socially important that was drawing in readers. Tailored, specialized news — the style and sport sections — that appeal to specific demographics pulled attention and therefore advertiser interest. Some hypothesized that tailored content could go further. Local newspapers, for example, could provide hyper-local content of interest to neighborhoods, like newsletters but with ads.

In 2012, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ oldest and largest daily newspaper, made a strategic shift to become digital first. This meant restructuring the newsroom, changing workflows, and thinking about how to tell stories directly on Facebook. With the extensive reach of NOLA.com, the digital home of the paper, they are now the largest media company in Louisiana.

The Evolution of a Story From Facebook Live to Print: A tornado ripped through New Orleans on the morning of February 7, 2017. Diana Samuels, the editor in charge of severe weather coverage, alerted the newsroom and 25 people across their reporting, photography, editing and social teams pitched in. By the end of the day they had over 56,000 interactions, 4 million page views, and 3.3 million video views on Facebook.

Nine of the 10 ‘most trusted’ news sources that Facebook uses are old media. Facebook just posted its current guidelines; Buzzfeed News has replaced Yahoo on the ‘most trusted’ list and is now the only new media outlet on Facebook’s top 10 list. Since a Gizmodo report earlier this week that said the editors of Facebook’s “trending” section have killed important conservative news stories and put important liberal ones at the top of the section, lots of people have been wondering: Do Facebook’s journalists actually suppress conservative news? Does Facebook attempt to influence how news spreads throughout its site, and thus the internet as a whole?

The Facebook Journalism Project recommends the following in using its platform for dissemination which will work in three ways:

1.) New storytelling formats. As people’s preferences for consuming news evolve, it’s critical to work together on figuring out which new storytelling formats will help people be more informed. We want to work with partners to evolve our current formats — Live, 360, Instant Articles, etc.

  • Local news. Local news is the starting place for great journalism — it brings communities together around issues that are closest to home. We’re interested in exploring what we can build together with our partners to support local news and promote independent media.
  • Emerging business models. One key area of collaboration is existing and emerging business models. Many of our partners have placed a renewed emphasis on growing their subscription funnel, and we’ve already begun exploring ways we can support these efforts.
  • One of our longest standing traditions at Facebook is hackathons where our engineers take a break from their day-to-day work to explore new problems and technical solutions.
  • Continuing to listen. We meet regularly with our media and publishing partners — and as part of the Facebook Journalism Project we’ll make an even more concerted effort to do so, with new rounds of meetings with publishers in the US and Europe, as a start in the months ahead.

2.) Training & Tools for Journalists. Training. In addition to the newsroom training we currently offer, we’re now conducting a series of e-learning courses on Facebook products, tools and services for journalists.

3.) Training & Tools for Everyone

As we seek to support journalism, we will also be working on new ways to help give people information so they can make smart choices about the news they read — and have meaningful conversations about what they care about.

Towards building audience traction and engagement Facebook recommends: Share Breaking News Updates, Use a Conversational Tone and Include Analysis, Start Conversations by Asking Questions and Responding, Share Stories Visually with Photos and Videos to Grab Users’ Attention, Reward Your Audience with Exclusive Content, Use Page Insights to Learn What Content Your Audience Cares Most About and Iterate, Target Posts to Bring Your Message to the Right Group, Use Engaging Thumbnails for Link Stories, Enable Your Community to Participate Through Crowdsourcing Content and Commentary, Vary Your Post Type – Users Don’t Engage the Same Way with Every Post, Use Pages Manager App to Update on Mobile, Optimize Your Page for Graph Search and Mobile.

Share Lab looked ‘under the bonnet’ at the tech giant’s algorithms and connections to better understand the social structure and power relations within the company. “If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than China”, says Mr. Joler, whose day job is as a professor at Serbia’s Novi Sad University. He reels off the familiar, but still staggering, numbers: the barely teenage Silicon Valley firm stores some 300 petabytes of data, boasts almost two billion users, and raked in almost $28bn (£22bn) in revenues in 2016 alone. And yet, Mr Joler argues, we know next to nothing about what goes on under the bonnet – despite the fact that we, as users, are providing most of the fuel – for free. “All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook”, he says.

Facebook’s relationship with governments remains complicated. Facebook has come under fire in the European Union, including for the spread of Islamic extremism on its network. The company just issued its annual transparency report explaining that it will only provide user data to governments if that request is legally sufficient, and will push back in court if it’s not. Despite Facebook’s desire to eventually operate in China and Zuckerberg’s flirtation with the country’s leaders, it’s still unwilling to compromise as much as the government wants it to in order to enter. A unit is led from Washington by Katie Harbath, a former Republican digital strategist who worked on former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Since Facebook hired Harbath three years later, her team has traveled the globe helping political clients use the company’s powerful digital tools. “It’s not Facebook’s job, in my opinion, to be so close to any election campaign”, said Elizabeth Linder, who started and ran the Facebook politics unit’s Europe, Middle East and Africa efforts until 2016. Linder had originally been excited about the company’s potential to be “extraordinarily useful for the world’s leaders — but also the global citizenry”. She said she decided to leave the company in part because she grew uncomfortable with what she saw as increased emphasis on electioneering and campaigns.

India is arguably Facebook’s most important market, with the nation recently edging out the U.S. as the company’s biggest. The number of users there is growing twice as fast as in the U.S. And that doesn’t even count the 200 million people who use the company’s WhatsApp messaging service in India, more than anywhere else on the globe. By the time of India’s 2014 elections, Facebook had for months been working with several campaigns. Modi, who belongs to the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, relied heavily on Facebook and WhatsApp to recruit volunteers who in turn spread his message on social media. Since his election, Modi’s Facebook followers have risen to 43 million, almost twice Trump’s count. Within weeks of Modi’s election, Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg both visited the nation as it was rolling out a critical free internet service that the government later curbed. Harbath and her team have also traveled there, offering a series of workshops and sessions that have trained more than 6,000 government officials. Facebook India has confirmed it has started prompting users to provide their Aadhaar details if they want to create a new account. The social media giant was spotted asking Aadhaar details from a user, who then posted a screenshot of it on Reddit. In the screenshot Facebook is seen asking the user his/her first and last name, which should be same as the one on the user’s Aadhaar card.

An initiative by a neighboring government of China reveals the launch its Social Credit System in 2020. The aim? To judge the trustworthiness – or otherwise – of its 1.3 billion residents. On June 14, 2014, the State Council of China published an ominous-sounding document called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System”. In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were? A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it’s already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious.

Similarly, today we see CrowdTangle, a 4-year-old tool that publishers use to track how content spreads around the web. CrowdTangle shows users how their content is performing on different platforms. It also shows what competitors and others in the industry are doing. CrowdTangle recently announced a partnership with Reddit which offers 50 state lists with subreddits to follow. It also tracks what Silverman calls ‘first-party sources’ including police departments and school districts and elected officials and what they’re posting on social media.”So we take what was otherwise a really hard, manual process around tracking various accounts and make it super easy”. A Chrome extension from CrowdTangle lets people see where content is being shared across platforms and by whom, Silverman said. Crowdtangle has helped publishers reach larger and more engaged audiences, but it’s also been accused of contributing to the “eerie sameness” of digital news. CrowdTangle joins Facebook’s existing publisher analytics tools, which include Signal (for discovering which news stories are trending) and Page Insights (which offer analytics tools for pages.) “Thanks to this partnership, our platform is only going to get more powerful”, CrowdTangle’s founders said in a blog post.

Prior to the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook was criticized for meddling too much in the news realm, populating news articles through its Trending Stories sidebar and through the posts and shares of Facebook users. On February 16, Zuckerberg posted a nearly 6,000 word letter to the Facebook community titled “Building Global Community”, in which he encouraged the creation of supportive, safe, informed, civically-engaged and inclusive communities – all through social media. “Our job at Facebook is to help people make the greatest positive impact while mitigating areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation”, Zuckerberg said. “Facebook is a work in progress, and we are dedicated to learning and improving”. It looks like Facebook will soon emerge as a real news media outlet, but with the twist of social media and user-produced content, rather than content produced by journalists and editors. Facebook is now getting ready to give video producers much more flexibility with their live broadcasts. The company appears to be testing a web-based ‘Live Video Producer’ tool that would allow you to control footage from multiple cameras in one stream. Further FB design offers the ability to add in multiple inputs, as well as choose different formats for displaying the videos, such as a split screen view, dividing into quarters, or a picture in picture mode. Based on the images, we know it should be able to accept at least four inputs. Now Facebook is planning two tiers of video entertainment: scripted shows with episodes lasting 20 to 30 minutes, which it will own; and shorter scripted and unscripted shows with episodes lasting about 5 to 10 minutes, which Facebook will not own, according to the sources.

In late May the Guardian released the Facebook Files, leaked internal documents revealing how the company moderates content. Many of us have long called for more transparency around Facebook’s content moderation so we can better understand gender-based violence that happens on the platform and provide feedback. Although Facebook has made some improvements, these documents confirm that it’s often one step forward, one step back, as the platform continues to censor women’s agency, especially women of colour and especially in relation to activism, while letting harassment flourish.

Starting in January of last year, the Chicago Tribune started to anecdotally see a fairly significant change in post reach. At the Tribune, we have a fairly stable and predictable audience. We had around a half million fans at the end of March and have seen slow but steady growth in the last year. Most Facebook posts fell into the 25,000 to 50,000 reach range — with a few big successes and few spectacular failures each day, usually based on the quality of the content or the quality and creativity of the share. Facebook’s news feed algorithm changes have been part of publishing reality for many years. But to Matt Karolian, director of audience engagement at The Boston Globe, “last month was probably the worst we’ve had in reach in about a year. The fact everyone else is seeing it is a little bit troubling.” Aysha Khan said Facebook reach has also been sliding at the Religion News Service, where she’s social media editor. “Reach spiked in the summer, and we started hitting 15, 25K reach on bigger posts that were polarizing,” Khan said. “It wasn’t just political posts, but any kind of interviews. Anything that had potential to get a big reaction got a big reaction. But then we noticed that kind of stopped, and by January, it was just gone. Now we’re worse off than we were to start with.”

The Silencing and Blocking of Un-Fair Web:
On 17th September 2017, Un-Fair received a private Facebook Messenger ‘direct message’ of an image – this was a screen shot of a ‘WhatsApp’ message (WhatsApp is a Facebook product). The message was a death threat, post the murder of Bangalore journalist Gauri Lankesh. Maintaining the student’s anonymity and verifying the messages authenticity Un-Fair Web began a posting about this on 18th September 2017. It is after this initial post on our Facebook Timeline, Un-Fair Web began receiving similar image-messages from various other journalists, activists and students. Various concerned people began tracking these cell phone numbers via TrueCaller and sharing the finds on the Timeline post. Slowly, an aggregation of voices towards a joint complaint and FIR through the Cyber Investigative Cell, TRAI, etc… (web-links were shared) was taking shape.

Around 10:00 PM on the 18th Un-Fair Web was blocked and expunged by Facebook. All posts, data and messages from Un-Fair Web either as private ‘Direct Messages’ or ‘comments’ on Facebook walls have been censored, made invisible and erased.  As then requested by Facebook, persons connected with the project submitted PAN Card and Passport Scans. Yet Un-Fair Web and the data collected through public sharing, remained inaccessible. It is only through various back channel emails and conversations with individuals (some of whom work at Facebook) and solely through their personal efforts that Un-Fair Web was given access to its identity to download our Facebook legacy (our Timeline posts, images, videos, texts, media etc…) and transition into a Page or Group. This we have done so with assistance through various technical hitches and blocks and today we have our archive data with us. We thank Inji Penu for her invaluable assistance and boundless spirit in bringing us back like Lazarus, as well as Shruti Moghe, Antigone Davis, Karuna Nain, Snehashish Ghosh for all their behind the curtain work. We thank all those on various email thread and social platforms writing into Facebook asking for our reinstating (thank you Sarah and Lawrence for beginning this) we thank those few journalists who understand what is at stake and gave of support through their voice on their platforms, we thank the various community members who continue their support towards us and came forward in solidarity.

While we at first believed that this attack was by a ‘right’ polarised bigoted group of persons, today we realise and are aware that the ‘reporting’ to Facebook against Un-Fair Web and its consequent blocking and ban was made possible by our politically liberal, central and left (so called ideological leaning) acquaintances. Most of our near familiars question our intentions, weather we are or not: ‘black’, ‘dalit’, ‘bahujan’, ‘adivasi’, ‘chinki’, ‘SC’, ‘ST’ or OBC – as we constantly find ourselves being ‘black-balled’ by friends, society and institutions for sharing and professing our views. This continuous societal ostracizing, today affects our means and modes of livelihoods and daily sustenance. As a result, the impact is an immense pressure being constantly applied to make the work and voice copyrightable and owned and taken away from a community of people and silenced. Continuously we find all that a community has spoken and its knowledge – ERASED. While our friends, journalists, artists, performers, curators remain silent claiming to be objective and not political. We say to you is this: “with every ‘WORD’ you write and profess, there always is a politic, and thus remains all that you do not say, yet constantly by usurping positions of power, platforms of space and voice – you erase, obliterate and annihilate in you quest for power and privilege.”

A year on from our birth on Facebook we find ourselves still existent an Identity, with Damocles’s sword above us. We also now exist a Public Facebook Group ‘#UnFair’ administered by a Facebook Page ‘Un-Fair Web’. This process allows us to maintain anonymity of various individuals. Further this allows for messaging between the various members and UnFair and the continued thread of conversations on a Timeline as a record and archive.

Un-Fair Web has been and will continue to be a community platform and a Voice for people that mainstream media and citizens of this country reject, obliterate and socially discriminate against, daily through every waking and conscious moment 24×7, 365 days of the year: This is through the language and representation of events by governments, institutions and media and its persons of employ; the beating up of YANNICK NIHANGAZA and being in a two year long coma eventually succumbing to his injuries while his assailants went scot free; the stripping an innocent Tanzania girl in Bangalore; beating to death a boy (OLIVER CONGO) in Kisan Gardh, Delhi; having an entire community raided in the middle of the night by an elected government labelling them prostitutes and drug dealers – at Khirkhee Extension; further today this means mid-night knocking on their doors asking for papers by men in uniform in Hyderabad, Noida and Greater Noida; seemingly frivolous activities of smacking people in the back of their heads with cricket bats as you go down the road on your motor-cycle in Jaipur; calling them cannibals and murderers, confiscating their passports and publicly beating them across an entire city of Greater Noida. These are but a few, add to this the various name-calling, solicitations, Metro Train incidents, etc… as one walks down the road to buy over-priced food, transport and rent and further telling Africa about this wonderful thing called the Green Revolution of Punjab that can feed the world.


Un-Fair Web
skin is foremost in gathering, processing and assimilating knowledge for the body. All forms and acts of prejudice and discrimination arising from biases of skin – are events of violence that deconstruct the body and the processes of knowledge making that discontinues learning, evolution and growth


Read More on the shutting down of ‘Un-Fair Web:
Whatsapp Death Threats In The Wake Of Gauri Lankesh Murder
September 19, 2017 / Raiot Collective


Facebook Blocks Account Which Talks About Issues Faced by Marginalised Communities in India

Un-fair Web, a Facebook account, was blocked after it started collecting and sharing information about senders of death threats to journalists, activists, and students. – Surangya Kaur
September 20, 2017 / NewsClick


Facebook’s community censors curb free speech

Accounts that are satirical, expose hate speech, or are totally harmless are being blocked for ‘violating’ Facebook guidelines. – Geeta Seeshu

November 21, 2017 / The Hoot

Read More on Facebook Blocking:

Facebook Blocks Cuba’s Mariela Castro After Post Urging Hurricane Aid

Facebook later apologized for the action, claiming that an employee had eliminated her account in error.

Facebook blocked the profile of Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sexual Education and daughter of President Raul Castro after she published information of a bank account created to receive aid after the destruction of Hurricane Irma in Cuba.

Man posts Kamal Ka Phool Hamari Bhool, Facebook blocks him for 30 days and deletes post
A user by the name of anasinbox has been banned by Facebook for 30 days for posting a status with the words ‘Kamal ka phool hamari bhool’. Alongside the status, the user shared a photo of a trader’s cash receipt which had the same words ‘kamal ka phool hamari bhool’ written at the bottom.

All the user did was highlight the fact that the receipt in question had these words printed and what they could possibly mean in context to the current government. The Facebook status read as follows – “Kamal ka phool hamari bhool. Vyapari apne cash memo par print karva kar janta se bata rahe hain ki BJP ko vote dekar galti ho gayi”.


Is Facebook really blocking criticism of the Indian government, BJP and Hindutva groups?

Days after it blocked a user for posting ‘kamal ka phool, hamari bhool’, the company says its actions are based on its Community Standards. – Abhishek Dey

October 3, 2017 / Scroll

Facebook no friend to American Indian names
Wrongly banned from the social networking Web site Facebook for registering under a false name, she was unable to get in touch with dozens of friends. In the middle of planning an upcoming trip, she suddenly lost touch with those she was to meet.

But the name she’d used was authentic, and though Facebook administrators eventually reinstated her account, some are concerned that the site is unfairly shutting off access to users with American Indian surnames.

Kills The Enemy’s experience has spawned a group of 1,000 Facebook users wondering why some with Native surnames must jump through hoops and endure accusations of fraud while the hundreds of users claiming to be named “Bart Simpson” do not.

Facebook Silences Rohingya Reports of Ethnic Cleansing

The social network says it’s committed to helping the world ‘share their stories.’ But when people from Burma’s oppressed minority post, their stories have a habit of disappearing.

Rohingya activists—in Burma and in Western countries—tell The Daily Beast that Facebook has been removing their posts documenting the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people in Burma (also known as Myanmar). They said their accounts are frequently suspended or taken down.

The Rohingya people are a Muslim ethnic minority group in Burma. They face extraordinary persecution and violence from the Burmese military; military personnel torch villages, murder refugees, and force hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Human rights watchdogs say the persecution has intensified in recent months, and a top UN official described a renewed offensive by the Burmese military as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”


Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments

IN SEPTEMBER OF last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country.

What makes this censorship particularly consequential is that “96 percent of Palestinians said their primary use of Facebook was for following news.” That means that Israeli officials have virtually unfettered control over a key communications forum of Palestinians.


Glenn Greenwald: Is Facebook Operating as an Arm of the Israeli State by Removing Palestinian Posts?

Facebook is being accused of censoring Palestinian activists who protest the Israeli occupation. This comes as Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked reportedly said in December that Tel Aviv had submitted 158 requests to Facebook over the previous four months asking it to remove content it deemed “incitement,” and said Facebook had granted 95 percent of the requests. We speak with Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald about his new report for The Intercept headlined “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.”


Inji Pennu’s spreadsheet documentation of Facebook bans.



The Fine Art of Making the Invisible Visible


I can see clearly now


Making Visible What Is Invisible



Mobilisation for digital rights


FCC Votes To Begin Rollback Of Net Neutrality Regulations


Google, Facebook, Verizon and net neutrality: what does it mean?


If Portugal is a net neutrality nightmare, we’re already living in it


Without net neutrality in Portugal, mobile internet is bundled like a cable package.


What an FCC rollback of net neutrality may mean for you



The War on the Freedom of Information Act

A conservative group is resisting congressional efforts to kneecap FOIA.


RTI debate: Don’t scare citizens



The right to reject, deny, obfuscate


Proposed Changes to RTI Act Will Complicate Seeking Information from Government.


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Take Back Our Media



Performance Art or Protesting Act?

Performance Art or Protesting Act?

Johny ML

Blackening her face for 125 days was a new aesthetical mode that artist P.S. Jayamol adopted to create a social critique on the discriminated ‘living’ experiences of the Dalit communities. But it seems to have almost backfired on the face of the artist herself. The onus is now on Jayamol to defend her ‘creative social experiment’ which was lauded as a piece of performance art by local as well as international media.

Jayamol’s ‘performance art’ was almost a reaction toward the infamous ‘Rohit Vemula’ incident at the Hyderabad University. Taking ‘black complexion’ as a definitive marker of the Dalit identity, the artist had embarked on her ‘social experiment cum performance art’ by smearing her face and the exposed parts of hands and feet with removable black paint whenever she ventured out of her home/studio.

However, the argumentative Kerala intelligentsia, especially the Dalit intelligentsia, came out strongly against the artistic ‘co-optation’ of the Dalit issues by using her ‘upper caste’ body as a point of departure and made the artist accountable for such superficial ‘sabotage’ of a Dalit ‘agitating and theorising’ spaces. On the other hand, a major section of the artist community questioned Jayamol on the very idea of ‘performance art.’ Their contention was that the artist herself wasn’t clear about whether it was a piece of performance art or a social experiment. They also raised questions via social media regarding the aesthetics of ‘black’ and the politics of the performing body or that of the body in ‘performance.’


Kerala is no longer the same. The issue of ‘black’ taken up by Jayamol could’ve been lapped up by the intelligentsia had it been done a decade before. Today, the Dalit intelligentsia doesn’t allow any such ‘integrationist,’ ‘patronising’ and ‘co-optation’ moves from anybody. For the spokespeople of the Dalit sections in Kerala, no discursive space that has exclusionary tactics or inclusive approach for the sake of democratic norms is acceptable. What they want today is ‘debate’; they no longer want to be spoken at or spoken to. The clear and precise political positions of the Dalit intellectuals have categorically made it clear to Jayamol that while they accept and appreciate her ‘artistic performance,’ the very idea of sabotaging the discursive space that they’ve been creating for so many decades now cannot be allowed for whatever reasons, including the aesthetical ones. The colour Black is not the only marker of a Dalit or a Dalit’s experience. Black is a general marker for Indians, though the upper castes don’t accept this until they face discrimination at the hands of the real White within the country or elsewhere. While Black being a universal derogatory marker of the evil, marking a Dalit or a Dalit experience with the colour black is almost a reductionist approach. According to the Dalit intelligentsia, blackness has transcended to various daily experiences of the Dalit even in their interactions with patronising integrationists.

It would be a reductionist argument if I say that only a Dalit has the right to speak about the Dalit experiences. However, empathy can’t be a replacement for the real experience. Jayamol’s contention regarding her performance is that it was her position/status as a woman that made her at par with the black skinned Dalit. Though we could argue that women are gendered Dalits, there is a Dalit discourse within the gender discourse itself. Feminisms all over the world have debated the multi-layered experiences of women in various social strata and have come to a conclusion that white feminism can’t speak for black feminism; similarly white upper class feminism can’t speak for the white labour class feminism. Even within Black communities such debates prevail. Jayamol has failed utterly while conceptualizing her performance art, as she hasn’t understood the nuances of Dalit and feminist discourses. Simplistic equations like Dalit= black and Dalit= woman made her almost a laughing stock within the cultural communities all over the world. However, I won’t say that Jayamol as an artist doesn’t have the right to ‘perform’ or ‘conduct’ social experiments on caste system in Kerala using a ‘color’ as a marker. While she has the right to do so, she should also be aware that the word ‘color’ or ‘colored’ itself is a marker of race or caste (in India’s case) and it isn’t just white against black, it is white against all the other colors. In Indian context, it is Brahminism against all other castes created by Brahminism itself.


When art is treated as a ‘reaction,’ not really as ‘response’ or ‘assimilated experiential responses filtered through intelligence and feeling via adequate methods and materials,’ many Jayamols would happen in our society. Such reactionary artists, as they are driven by the urgency to ‘react’ rather than to respond intelligently, fail to understand the gravity of the situations. The failure that happened to Jayamol’s art project is because of her ‘reactionary’ approach. This performance was a ‘reaction’ to Vemula’s suicide. Her concerns were extended to the unfortunate incidents like ‘Ooraly’s arrest’ and the ‘rape and murder of Jisha.’ Reactionary artists often grab the opportunity of famous as well as infamous social happenings and attach their ‘art-ivism’ to such developments. That’s why Jayamol’s performance looks like a tacky social experiment meant for a ‘desired result’ masquerading as a piece of performance art process. The reactionary verve of the artist blinded her in seeing how artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abromovic and so on used body as a performance tool much before the social experiments intend to shock and eke out a reaction from the ‘shocked’ or ‘offended’ or ‘don’t care’ audiences.

Jayamol isn’t alone. Reactionary art is the latest fad in Kerala where people are looking for publicity by attaching themselves to the latest social events that demand intellectual solidarity from different sections of the society. This is an outcome of the Kochi Muziris Biennale that has been promoting an art culture which is predominantly spectacular, and supporting capitalist art with a rebellious streak. While claiming its leaning toward political art, Kochi Muziris Biennale runs with the pray and hunts with the hunter.

Before I close this article, I would like to tell the artists in Kerala and elsewhere that art is political only up to the level of the political integrity of the artist himself or herself. Painting Mahatma Gandhi with a blackened tooth or talking about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar doesn’t make an artist political. Mere sloganeering and claiming of a political voice or space also doesn’t make an artist political. Even the party affiliation of the artists does not make them political. Picasso was a Communist Party card holder, but apart from the forced reading of ‘Guernica,’ we don’t identify Picasso as a communist. Reactionaries are never political. Whether they are visible or invisible, accepted or rejected, accommodated or thrown out, Dalit political discourses have been there for over a century now in India, and a reactionary artist just cannot snatch that space for whatever reasons. As a Dalit scholar and leader had put in one of the television debates, ‘Jayamol can wash the black colour by evening, but what about us who can’t wash it off and also have to hand it over to the successive generations like a pollutant?’

(Photos: Kalakakshi/Facebook & See-ming Lee ??? SML via Foter.com / CC BY-SA)

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ചായം പൂശിയ ഐക്യദാര്‍ഢ്യത്തിന്റെ ചെമ്പ് തെളിയുമ്പോള്‍

Why this Indian woman is using ‘blackface’ as solidarity

Here’s Why This Young Artist In Kerala Is Covering Herself In Black Paint For 100 Days

Paint Me Black

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    Johny ML

    Johny is a New Delhi-based art historian, critic, curator and writer.




Helpful White Lady Raises Awareness Of “Secluded Cultures” Through Magic Of Blackface

Helpful White Lady Raises Awareness Of “Secluded Cultures” Through Magic Of Blackface

Meet Hungarian journalist Boglarka Balogh! Boglarka says that she usually travels the world writing about human rights issues–but recently, she got a great idea to try something different! She thought perhaps there wasn’t enough “awareness” of the various “secluded cultures” in various African nations, and decided to do her part to correct that.

Her idea? To transform herself into seven of these “stunning tribal beauties” with the help of a graphic designer, and then wrote an article about it on BoredPanda. An article titled–I shit you not–“I Morphed Myself Into Tribal Women To Raise Awareness Of Their Secluded Cultures.

Boglarka writes:

My inspiration came from my time spent in various African countries where I became fully aware of the issues regarding a number of endangered tribes, and the speed at which they are fading away. These stunning portraits show how beauty varies across the globe and prove that all of us are beautiful in a different way. They’re celebrating stunning tribal beauties at the brink of extinction.

Let me get this straight, Boglarka–in order to show how beautiful women of different ethnic backgrounds than you are, you are simply dressing up as them? This seems like it’s perhaps a little bit more about how beautiful you think you are.

How this raises awareness more than posting pictures of the actual women themselves and then writing about them, no one can really be sure. Are there actual people who would perhaps go “Gosh! I had no interest in these various cultures until a white lady Photoshopped some blackface on a selfie and dressed up as them!” Because I honestly can’t imagine how or why that would be. Although–given the fact that the article has a rating of 80, which I assume is good although I have no idea how their voting system works, and has been shared on Facebook over 4,000 times, I have to imagine they exist.

I also find it a tad suspicious that she is a journalist who travels the world writing about human rights and yet somehow she has absolutely no idea that blackface is an extremely offensive thing. I get that there are not all that many black people in Hungary, but come the hell on. Clearly, she is familiar with some non-Hungarian news sources, as she posted this thing on BoredPanda.

In light of the fact that there are so many people out there who appreciate this kind of thing–I feel I should let the world know that I am currently wearing a long sleeved black shirt and black leggings. Why? Because it’s what I put on this morning, but also because I want to raise awareness of mimes. Now you know what a mime is. You’re welcome. Feel free to send me many accolades, flowers, and candy.

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First woman maasai warrior?

First woman maasai warrior?: the appropriation of African cultures

By  on October 2, 2013

To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves

Mindy Budgor, who took a crash course to become the first female Maasai warrior.  Glamour.com

Mindy Budgor, who took a crash course to become the first female Maasai warrior. Glamour.com

A young white, middle-class woman from California learned on a trip to Kenya that Maasai women were not allowed to become warriors. Apparently, she learned this from a Maasai chief. The woman, Mindy Budgor, was shocked at hearing of such an oppressive culture and decided to become the first woman Maasai warrior in order to save Maasai women from their own culture. Budgor, having apparently succeeded at her mission – let us not dwell on the intricacies of how a white woman can become Maasai or the fact that Budgor took a crash course in becoming a warrior, completing in 15 days an exercise that usually takes years – returned to the United States and published a book titled Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior.

Considering the number of white people who venture into African countries, particularly Kenya, in order to save the natives and in process themselves, Budgor’s story could easily have escaped the notice of the general public. Fortunately, this one didn’t. On the one hand there was the Western media who never seem to tire of these stories of white women thriving in harsh “tribal” conditions, then there was the backlash from African bloggers who have had enough of white people using Africa, African people and African cultures as their playground.

Ignoring Maasai voices

It is hardly a secret that there is no shortage of cultural appropriation when it comes to the Maasai people. Yet Budgor’s labelling of herself as the first female Maasai warrior marks a new, low, and could not have come at a better time, right on the heels of the massive online discussion about how feminism excludes women of colour. The white woman’s burden sees white women using their feminism to liberate their less fortunate “sisters” all over the world, regardless of whether the latter actually need liberating or not, from FEMEN encouraging Muslim women to dump their hijabs in favour of toplessness, completely disregarding the opinions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, to Budgor, who seems to have totally ignored Maasai women in her quest to bring feminism to them.

Mindy Budgor, the 'first female Maasai warrior'. Photo: Glamour.com

Several Maasai women have remarked on the foolishness of Budgors’s actions. One comment from a Maasai woman over at Africa Is A Country reads: “I am a Maasai woman (from Kenya) and we have seen these (white) women come and go. We have Maasai women members of parliament, doctors, lawyers, professors, civil servants, teachers, nurses, business owners etc., but of course, we don’t exist in the eyes of fools like this Mindy woman whose sole purpose always appears to be to fetishise Maasai men (our sons, brothers, fathers and husbands) in one way or another. How many books are going to be written by white women about how they came and fell in love with a Maasai man, gave up everything for him, helped poor ignorant Maasai women, taught Maasai men how to behave etc, etc. We are sooooo fed up!” Another Maasai woman was disgusted by the white saviour aspect of Budgor’s mission, the cultural insensitivity, and the insult to Maasai women and Maasai culture in general. In addition, the fact that Budgor is making money off this insult puts her in a space not too far from that occupied by the white colonialists and slave traders who similarly just came to Africa to take and enrich themselves. To end her dissection of Budgor’s actions, the second Maasai lady reveals an insight with the question: “why is it so easy for us to sell ourselves like this…if this woman was not a mzungu [white woman] she would never have had this experience let alone write about it. Are we still enslaved in our minds or what?”

It appears the majority of us Africans are indeed still enslaved in our minds. Literally every time I have expressed some discomfort at white women wearing traditional clothes from Nigerian cultures and attempting to dance cultural dances, I have been told to hush and be happy that white people are showing any interest at all in my culture. As if our cultures cannot be whole without a stamp of approval from white people. The reason Africans are still be looking to white people for validation and valuation of their cultures can only be due to the shackles of mental colonialism.

What would have happened if a woman from another African country had attempted to do what Budgor did? Would she have gone far in the process of becoming a warrior? Would any chief have paid her some attention? The truth of the matter is that we Africans tend to give more space to and legitimise white voices than we do our own; we are still seeking to please the white man, prompting Julius N. Timgum of the African Economist to ask “what is it about the white man that breaks us down to the point of submission? Do we have to continue stooping so low by selling our heritage at so cheap a price?” It is hard to know how far a Maasai woman, or an African woman from another country, would have gone in becoming a warrior if she’d tried, and I have no idea how many, if any, African women actually want to become Maasai warriors, but it is necessary to question why Budgor was allowed to go as far as she did. It is important to recognise and confront the way we Africans respond to white privilege.

The White Man’s Woman’s Burden

There is a long history of white people trying to liberate Africa and Africans; this was one of the excuses Europeans used to justify colonialism. Till today we still see versions of the white man’s burden, though not limited to just white men as white women and Westerners of colour fall into this trap, too. We encounter such people who believe it is their duty to help the poor, confused and oppressed/oppressive African “tribal” people. The more sinister truth is that these privileged people are only using their wish to help as an excuse, and are in reality selfishly looking for ways to enrich themselves at the expense of whomever they claim to be helping. This is not unique to Africa; there is a long list of white women being “initiated” into Asian, African and indigenous American cultures. Contrary to some African bloggers who seem to believe that Budgor would not have been able to get away with this brazen appropriation if she had tried it with Native American cultures, white women have appropriated Native American cultures for centuries. The white Australian woman Fiona Graham who travelled to Japan to become a geisha also followed a crash course, taking a year to complete what traditionally takes years to master. Her tale of cultural appropriation ended when the other geisha chased her away from the sisterhood due to her lack of respect for elders, among other things. The eventual rejection is notably similar to Mindy’s, who was lunged at with a spear by her “fellow” Maasai warriors who felt that she did not belong in their circle.

Fiona Graham said the Asakusa Geisha Society refused her membership as she is a 'foreigner'. Photo: Ben Robbins/The Australian

White women who appropriate benefit from it, they get published and interviewed. People buy their books and some of these women become the go-to Western authority on whichever foreign culture they plundered. I have met quite a few white British people who seem to believe they can change the world by travelling to Kenya to play with children, and maybe having sex with the natives, before returning to their comfortable lives in England. Last year I was (un)fortunate enough to attend an event that I thought was a fundraising for people who were displaced by the post-election violence in Kenya. It was quite a fancy event, held at a beautiful hotel in the English countryside. As the dinner progressed I found myself horror-stricken as it slowly became clear that the fundraiser was actually to sponsor a young, middle class white man to go to Kenya for vague reasons involving work with children. Money was being raised, not for the displaced people but for a white man to go on a “saviour” trip.

To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves.


Africa to Reforest the Continent ?

Africa Reveals Awesome Plan To Reforest The Continent

Posted on Dec 19th, 2015 | Sourcetrueactivist.com

By 2030, African nations have vowed to restore 100 million hectares (around 386,000 square miles) of the forest. The “AFR100” activity is an aspiring and phenomenal arrangement by more than twelve African nations to do what they can do in the event of a climate disaster.

As the world forges a climate agreement in Paris, African countries — which bear the least historic responsibility for climate change — are showing leadership with ambitious pledges to restore land,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute in a press statement. “These African leaders are turning their words into action and making a real contribution to respond to the global threat of climate change.”

Nine monetary accomplices and 10 specialized technical help suppliers have promised support for AFR100, led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD Agency), Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and World Resources Institute (WRI).

Despite the fact that they just cover 7%, tropical forests protect more than half of the world’s plant and creature species. Africa is presently losing 10 million sections of land of backwoods every year, which is incredibly influencing the planet’s capacity to manage the environmental change and is gradually placing natural life in peril of termination. Africa’s Congo Basin is the second biggest rainforest after the Amazon, which is the reason the first please to secure it is so essential.

“AFR100” recognizes the benefits that forests and trees can provide in African landscapes: improved soil fertility and food security, greater availability and quality of water resources, reduced desertification, increased biodiversity, green jobs, economic growth, and increased capacity for climate change resilience and mitigation. Forest landscape restoration has the potential to improve livelihoods, especially for women.

The announcement was made during the Global Landscapes Forum at the Climate Conference in Paris. According to The World Resources Institute, countries that have agreed to join the AFR100 initiative are:

• Democratic Republic of Congo (8 million hectares)

• Ethiopia (15 million hectares)

• Kenya  (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)

• Liberia (1 million hectares)

• Madagascar (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)

• Malawi (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)

• Niger (3.2 million hectares)

• Rwanda (2 million hectares)

• Togo (Committed, but finalizing hectare target)

• Uganda (2.5 million hectares)

“Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security and opportunity,” said Dr. Vincent Biruta, Minister of Natural Resources in Rwanda. “With forest landscape restoration we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy, it is an economic and social development strategy as well.”

“The scale of these new restoration commitments is unprecedented,” said Wanjira Mathai, Chair of the Green Belt Movement and daughter of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. “I have seen restoration in communities both large and small across Africa, but the promise of a continent-wide movement is truly inspiring. Restoring landscapes will empower and enrich rural communities while providing downstream benefits to those in cities. Everybody wins.”

The video above from the Jane Goodall institute explains why Africa’s forests are so important to the wellbeing of our beautiful planet, and what the organization is doing to reforest chimpanzee habitats.

Let us know your thoughts regarding this, and share this uplifting news!



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Prizes to Encourage African Farmer

How prizes can encourage African farmers to embrace innovation

July 7, 2016 12.49am AEST

Some farmers are suspicious of technological innovation. But technology can really help them. Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Africa must transform agriculture to meet its food security needs and contribute to economic transformation. But change in this sector is usually slow. It is often bedevilled by popular opposition to the use of new technologies.

In my new book, “Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies”, I argue that the idea of agricultural transformation often creates perceptions about the potential loss of income and cultural identity among Africa’s farming communities.

These perceptions could lead to people opposing new technologies and ultimately undermine farming communities’ abilities to improve their well-being through agricultural innovation. In Kenya some farmers have, over the past decade, opposed the introduction of mechanical tea harvesters because of the potential impact on jobs.

Such perceptions aren’t new. Agricultural mechanisation, for instance, has been marked by long periods of opposition, largely by advocates of farm animals and human labour worldwide. American farmers objected to the introduction of tractors. They argued that horses could reproduce themselves while tractors depreciated. Anxiety about the loss of incumbent farming systems lay at the heart of this controversy.

Agricultural transformation requires both courage and sensitivity to social effects. This is why Africa needs a variety of incentives – particularly prizes for excellence – that promote agricultural innovation in ways that benefit farming communities. Research has proved how much prestigious prizes can boost cultural innovation. Why shouldn’t the same be true for agricultural innovation?

The prestige of prizes

One of the initiatives that’s trying to change people’s attitudes to agricultural innovation is the Africa Food Prize. It styles itself as “the preeminent award recognising an outstanding individual or institution that is leading the effort to change the reality of farming in Africa”.

The prize, founded by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa and the Yara Corporation, is worth much more than its monetary value of US$100,000. It “celebrates Africans who are taking control of Africa’s agriculture agenda.” It highlights “bold initiatives and technical innovations that can be replicated across the continent to create a new era of food security and economic opportunity for all Africans”.

More importantly, it aims to change African agriculture “from a struggle to survive to a business that thrives”. This involves pursuing agricultural excellence that isn’t usually associated with traditional farming systems whose emblem is an African woman oppressed by the inefficiency of the hand hoe.

Prizes aren’t without their detractors, of course. Their role in promoting excellence is one of the most hotly debated areas of social innovation in Africa. Each year, for instance, there is much discussion about the award or non-award of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

In his pioneering book, “The Economy of Prestige”, James English points out that prizes have been critical in promoting advances in literature and the arts. He argues that they’ve helped to create the “cultural capital” that’s needed to propel creativity and excellence in these areas. English shows how cultural innovation benefits from improvements in the prize sponsorship, nomination and judging procedures; presentation and acceptance; and publicity and even controversy. These lessons can all be applied to the world of agricultural innovation.

Today a number of prizes globally seek to foster innovation. A study by consulting giant McKinsey found that such prizes are most effective when there is:

a clear objective (for example, one that is measurable and achievable within a reasonable time frame), the availability of a relatively large population of potential problem solvers, and a willingness on the part of participants to bear some of the costs and risks.

More prizes needed

Hopefully, the Africa Food Prize will foster the creation of similar and complementary prizes. This is important. There’s a tendency for society to shun excellence prizes if they appear to serve only a small group of people. In social settings where patronage and entitlement are the default criteria for awards, resentment toward these prizes is particularly strong.

So what might new prizes in the field of agricultural innovation look like? They could have very specific objectives – rewarding young agricultural entrepreneurs, especially those who succeed across the full agricultural value chain. They could focus on newer agricultural fields like data processing. They could reward those who are innovative in production, processing and packaging, retailing, recycling and environmental management.

They could also provide more than a monetary reward. One of the factors that keeps young people from going into agribusiness is a lack of mentors. New prizes could incorporate mentoring functions, as is the case with the Africa Prize for Engineering and Innovationthat’s managed by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering.

The diversity of agricultural activities calls for more prizes. As “The Economy of Prestige” suggests, society can rapidly accumulate cultural capital if there are as many prizes as they are winners. The Africa Food Prize should be the first seed in a broader effort to cultivate a culture of agricultural excellence on the continent.



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‘Cash Crop’ Agriculture in Africa

Early History of ‘Cash Crop’ Agriculture in Africa, 1880-1930

ALL AFRICA | By  Editor  / 6 months ago

Prior to colonialism, food production in Africa was in the hands of African farmers who grew crops mainly for food production. Many explorers to Africa were more focused on acquiring and shipping raw materials to the western world and considered this the most efficient use of their resources. Over time this way of conducting business became expensive and they sought to diversify ways to increase their profits. More often than not, private companies such as the Royal Niger Company, Imperial British East Africa Company, and British South Africa Company incurred high costs in trying to set up a new administration that would protect their interests. These new administrations often introduced tax systems and laws that forced local farmers to grow crops they could openly sell on the local market in order to pay their taxes. This led to the introduction of cash crop agriculture in many parts of Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria

On the Gold Coast, cocoa became the key cash crop after it was introduced to the territory in the 1880s. The Gold Coast became the single largest producer of cocoa in the world and production continued to expand until the 1970s. Cocoa production in Ghana, was introduced to the Akwapim by missionaries. In Nigeria, the Yoruba were introduced to cocoa and the Hausa to groundnuts. While cocoa production was profitable for export it required large tracts of land and could take up to 15 years to mature.


In Uganda, the British Cotton Growing Association encouraged the Ganda chiefly class to embrace cotton production. Prior to cotton becoming the key cash crop, the Buganda had exported slaves and ivory only and farming was primarily used for food production. While cotton production increased dramatically, food production declined as more farmers chose to plant cotton which would increase the value of their land. In Sudan’s Gezira region, cotton was also the major cash crop and Sudan’s Plantation Syndicate dictated the use of land to farmers by providing most of the financing. The focus on a single cash crop for a country of region left many Africans vulnerable during periods of drought, economic decline and falling world prices.


In Kenya, most groups were pastoralists except in the fertile Rift Valley, where the settler government parceled out land to its people by clearing African inhabitants. Groups like the Kikuyu were displaced and moved to areas with poor soil and unfavorable climate known as reserves. The few Africans who continued to live on land designated for white settlers were treated as squatters who were required to work for the white farmer in return for living on his land for a specified amount of time, thereby offering cheap labor.

Early colonial government would actively support white farmers by providing them financial assistance, seeds, equipment, agricultural advice, startup loans and cheap transportation rates to transport produce using the railway. The white settler government actively sabotaged African farmers by making it illegal for them to participate in export trade of any cash crop and prohibited from growing specific cash crops like coffee or tea.


In Southern Rhodesia (now present day Zimbabwe), the white settlers settled for farming after failing to find large the large gold reserved they hope to. In 1923, they consolidated power and achieved self-governing status. In 1930, through the Land Apportionment Act, the white settler farmers were able to take 49 million acres of the most productive land while Africans were placed in 7.5 million acres of the worst land known as reserves. Most of white settler farmers grew cash crops for export.

This article serves as a foundation for understanding the land issue in many African countries such as Malawi.


Are Colonial-Era Laws Holding Africa Back?

60 years later, Are Colonial-Era Laws Holding Africa Back?

 January 20 2017 at 7:00 AM


When Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo took the oath of office on Jan. 7, by his side was a judge wearing a traditional British horsehair wig and black judicial robes. Just how far had Ghana shifted away from colonial rule since gaining independence in 1957?

Many Africans — and political scientists — believed that the newfound sovereignty of African nations in the 1950s and 1960s would cure ills, from economic underdevelopment to political repression, from low levels of social trust to high levels of corruption.

Many of these hopes remain unrealized. While countries did gain independence, some researchers argue that they held on to many of the rules put in place by former colonizers. Our research examines if this idea of colonial endurance is plausible in the legal sector.

Do colonial rules persist?

Colonial-era bureaucracies and legal systems were designed to control the population and extract wealth from the colony back to the colonizing power. After independence, governing and judicial institutions continued to run much as they had in the past, like trains moving along the same track.

Jumping to a new set of tracks proved very difficult because of the increasing cost of switching to a different path. So, if there were only minimal shifts in these institutions after independence, then countries might be stuck with autocratic politics and bad economic institutions inherited from colonial times.

Examples are easy to spot. Judges in a number of other African Commonwealth nations continue to wear the horsehair wigs and robes of their British predecessors. Some laws in Commonwealth nations also mirror older British laws — many African countries still maintain harsh colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality, for instance.

In the United States as well, we can easily find antiquated laws. Hey, New Yorkers, it’s illegal to wear slippers after 10 pm. Seriously.

While we have some anecdotal examples of legal institutions staying the same, we also have examples of countries making major changes to their laws. Rwanda, for example, is in the process of changing its entire legal system from the colonial Belgian civil law system to the common law system.

So, we have competing narratives. Do examples of colonial endurance tell us something about the general state of institutions, or are they just weird exceptions to a more general pattern of change?

Do colonial laws hold countries back? 

If these laws have stayed largely the same, this could help us understand why some countries have had slower economic growth. For example, researchers have found that there is a correlation between the kind of colonial legal system and economic outcomes today. Generally, civil law countries perform worse than common law countries.

So, if civil law countries kept their colonial laws, this might account for worse economic growth. Changing these laws might help them perform better economically. If, however, laws have already shifted, then further modifying the laws themselves is unlikely to promote economic development. In this latter case, there must be other reasons for the constrained growth, like informal institutions or norms.

We scrutinized the entire criminal code in 7 countries

Our research challenges the idea that there is widespread persistence of colonial legislationin African civil law countries. We examined how much of the colonial criminal code endured across much of French West Africa — Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. We looked at whole legal codes rather than cherry-picking individual laws.

The French implemented a single criminal code across its colonies, with a final version instituted in 1955 (five years before most French African colonies gained independence). We wanted to see how much of this colonial law was evident in the present codes of these sub-Saharan successor states of French West Africa.

Each criminal code includes hundreds of articles, so we wrote a program to make these comparisons. The program takes every article of the 1955 code and finds the article in each country’s present code that most resembles it. It tabulates what fraction of the old article must change in order to turn it into a new article. If very few changes are necessary, then the language of the old article carries into the present code. If a lot has to change, then this is evidence that colonial influence is waning.

All of these countries made large changes to their criminal codes

The figure below shows how much of the colonial code was retained in each of the seven West African countries in our study. Every country substantially changed more than half of the colonial criminal code. Most changed significantly more.

Senegal retained the largest share of colonial articles, but even then, less than half of the colonial code exists in the present code. Togo retained the least, keeping only a few colonial articles in its modern criminal code.

So what do our findings say about the persistence of colonial law? First, we should be skeptical of claims that Africa’s laws are unchanged since the colonial period. Our results suggest that the laws in these countries are dynamic and varied.

Second, these findings suggest that if inherited colonial institutions are responsible for economic or political outcomes today, then this effect probably occurs through the transmission of informal rules or culture. It’s not directly because of the laws themselves.

Third, these results imply that it is not enough, and potentially not even useful, to suggest that a problem like corruption or weak shareholder protection can be fixed simply by writing new laws. Any prescription for change should start from a proper diagnosis. In these countries, there is little need to rewrite laws to remove colonial influence; that influence has already waned.

Maya Berinzon is a researcher at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Policy and Governance.

Ryan Briggs (@ryanbriggs) is an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Political Science.

The Problem with Photojournalism and Africa

The Problem with Photojournalism and Africa

Why African photographers don’t get to tell African photo stories in Western media.

Images of Africa in Western media often conform to racist colonial-era stereotypes about the continent, writes Jayawardane [Al Jazeera]
Images of Africa in Western media often conform to racist colonial-era stereotypes about the continent, writes Jayawardane [Al Jazeera]
 | @Sugarintheplum

M Neelika Jayawardane is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego.

Whenever “Africa” is in the headline of mainstream US and European media sources, especially those that are highly regarded, I wince. I know the storyline is going to suffused by disappointment and resignation about Africa failing, once again.

While the rest of the world and its modern inhabitants are technologising and digitising, happily going about wearing jeans and T-shirts, there goes Africa, backwards into some apocalyptic, scarred past, wearing embarrassing tribal garb. 

Sometimes, these media outlets allow Africa to come to the present, but of course, in dubious ways: embedded in the flow of “Islamic” terror-narratives: Nigeria and Boko Haram, Libya and its violent insurgents, Somalia and its troublesome “Islamic fundamentalists” raiding Kenyan universities.

It’s as though the editorial board is shaking its collective head with an exasperated sigh, and showing us, with a lavish, full-colour photograph, exactly why they are frustrated with the entire continent.

Sometimes, though, I’m just confused. For instance, the influential New York Times recently published an article titled “Who Is Telling Africa’s Stories“, covering efforts to develop photojournalism in various African countries.

The writer, Whitney Richardson, a photo editor for the paper, provided some contradicting points: Happy news about the growing number of talented photographers coming out of photography training institutes and collectives based in countries with divergent histories and presents – Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa – but also that these photographers do not produce work that is “professional” enough for agencies to hire them.

‘Uncomfortable conversations’

Richardson offered some insight into continuing problems that locally based photographers face getting international news agencies’ attention. What emerges as a solution is the need for young photographers to get international exposure, where, according to acclaimed photographer Akintunde Akinleye, they may also “learn the ethical standards of the industry”. The takeaway: unless international news agencies based in North America and Europe such as the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse pick your work, you are a nobody.

Yet, it is these very agencies that contribute to problematic views that simplify Africa into a repetitive trope. Africa remains a monolithic space of violence and poverty uncomplicated by global politics and military action, because the images and narratives chosen by powerful news agencies and newspapers continue to speak to foundational myths that Europe (and white ex-colonists and plantation owners in America) manufactured about Africa, in order to better ease their conquest and exploitation of a regionally, politically and socially complex, dynamic continental shelf. 

If the construction of the African as child-like, or not quite human, who has little agency or intellect, aided the colonial project, today, the narrative continues to aid the construction of the European self as civilised, maintaining the African and Africa as the location of savagery, helplessness, and devastation. It also creates Europe as a desirable location that those who have no agency and have done little to better themselves attempt to infiltrate – much to Europe’s chagrin. 

Aida Muluneh, Ethiopian-born artist, documentary photographer, and the founder of Desta for Africa (DFA) – a creative consultancy that curates exhibitions and pursues cultural projects with local and international institutions – emphasises: “Photography continues to play a key role in how we are seen, not just as Africans, but as black people from every corner of the world. Stereotypes and prejudice are incited by images, and if it’s used, yet again, to undermine those of us who are truly doing the difficult work, then we need to have some uncomfortable conversations.

And when it comes to payment, there are further “uncomfortable” discrepancies that international agencies never reveal: “When we do get assignments, they want to pay us less because we are from the country; but for a foreign photographer, they will not blink to pay an arm and a leg,” adds Muluneh.

In Richardson’s piece, the prevailing view is that even though top photo agencies are looking for local photographers to “offset costs”, the Africans do not compare to western photographers.

Alice Gabriner, Time magazine’s international photo editor, expressed disappointment with African photographers (note, again, an entire continent’s photographers are lumped together), because they lack “completed bodies of work”.

But photography training institutions – producing photographers with “complete” bodies of work that have received international acclaim and awards – have mushroomed in the past 10 years. Muluneh’s own focus is on developing internal networks: to be “independent and to create our own platforms … and institutions … to be self-sustainable and to be able to compete in the international market.”

Besides Muluneh’s DFA, which also runs AddisFoto Festival, there is Market Photo Workshop in South Africa, The Nlele Institute in Nigeria, The Nest Collective in Kenya, among others.

Despite the existence of photographers and journalists from African localities, they are not the go-to people that agencies based in the geopolitical West seek out. The New York Times’ reporters-in-Africa, Nicholas Kristoff and Jeffrey Gettleman, or R W Johnson, the London Review of Book’s go-to fave on South Africa, spin a good Africa story, seemingly with little self-critique, and with little thought to consequences.

The ideologies behind the image narratives and stories in English language news sources are presented matter-of-factly, with little resistance from alternative media in the US and Europe; although they often contain deeply problematic perspectives of significant issues, they are trotted out on a regular basis, whenever there is a “crisis” involving Africa.

Conscious and unconscious tropes

If we ask a photojournalist or a photo editor how old narratives constructed in order to aid slavery, exploitation, and colonisation, as well as current efforts to extract resources, continue to inflect themselves into how we conceive of Africa and Africans today, in current photo spreads, we’d draw blank stares, or be the recipient of hostile, defensive responses. 

That lack of critique is partly owing to the fact that photo narratives reference prevailing problematic, and often racist, views; even those with expensive educations that taught them to be critical, those who hold influential photo-editing positions at the world’s most powerful news companies, still subscribe to these views, consciously or unconsciously.

For instance, only months before publishing “Who is Telling Africa’s Stories,” The New York Times published a photo essay with the troubling headline Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat” by Rick Gladstone and Aris Messinis. The story focused on African migrants who had crossed the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe, but ended up dying in a capsizing boat. 

The photo essay appears, at first, to highlight the migrants’ plight. However, the way in which they are portrayed, along with the provocative headline, made their desperate attempts to reach safety appear callous and inhuman (because what civilised person would step over the dead?). 

The survivors who scrambled to get to safety are depicted as broken humans, at best, or those with unformed psyches that permit acts of barbarity that the Western “we” would never consider.

Photo-narratives such as “Stepping Over the Dead” bring up many familiar, and troubling, tropes common to the prevailing narratives about Africa. They teach a new generation of readers to view the African as an “other” to be pitied or feared. 

These arresting images – constructed mostly by flown-in photojournalists, with the help of their photo editors – grab our attention; the best draw the fundamentals of their aesthetic from European masters, referencing visual cliches that Western-educated audiences can identify and latch on to. They continue and reinforce colonial mythologies, fashioning the “us” of the geopolitical West as “civilised”, defining and distinguishing the enlightened European self from the dark, savage Africa.

OPINION: Africa doesn’t want any more Western band aids 

When the same newspaper prints a story about the struggle that African photographers face getting their work published, with little critique of their own involvement in presenting an insistently racist vision of Africa and Africans that simply masquerades as compassion, it’s easy to end up with a little schizophrenia.

How can African photographers hope to get work or recognition without reproducing expected stereotypes? Can they do so without the accompaniment of writing that exposes European or US governments’ interference and military presence – as in the case of Somalia, Mali, CAR, Djibouti, and Chad – or destabilisation efforts and military campaigns – as in the case of Libya?

Instead of leading the story with the dearth of Africa-based agencies, and offering the need to get recognition in North America and Europe – itself a problematic solution, available mostly to those who are already from middle and upper-class families who are well-connected enough to navigate visa and immigration regimes, not to mention galleries and art world sharks – why not offer better solutions?

Photographs have traditionally been regarded as “evidence”, or even as providers of indisputable “truth”. And there is little doubt that the present generation reads the world almost exclusively through images. In this age, where images play a significant role in how we read the world, photographs that accompany news stories have even more influence. 

But the practice of reading, in which we currently engage, is undergirded by consumer practices; it is carried out with little critical ability, and with little historical understanding about how and why readers’ image repertories, and their thought processes are influenced by material cultures – including photography – that aided violent, imperial histories.

But because photography is seen as a “truth-telling” medium that reveals without bias, audiences and photographers themselves are unaware of how the narratives they help create continue to be inflected with the same stories that enabled Europe’s construction of the African as a savage or helpless, the “other” needing the disciplinary forces of Western civilisation to tame and aid their unruly bodies and psyches into modernity.

When Muluneh was recently interviewed by a local radio station, she was asked how she was able to photograph “the good” things about Ethiopia, “as well as the bad”. Muluneh explained to her interviewer that the “bad is the easiest thing to document”. Perhaps that’s something The New York Times’ photographers need to hear in a critical skills workshop.

M Neelika Jayawardane is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego, and an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). She was a senior editor and contributor to the online magazine, Africa is a Country, from 2010 to 2106. Her writing is featured in Transitions, Contemporary And, Art South Africa, Contemporary Practices: Visual Art from the Middle East, and Research in African Literatures. She writes about and collaborates with visual artists.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy. 

In Tanzania Maasai land Stolen Under Development

Tanzania allows Maasai land to be stolen under the guise of development

Ebe Daems | 8 december 2016 | MO*MEDEWERKERS

Tanzania is receiving development assistance to further develop the agricultural sector through public-private cooperation. The projects are being promoted under the premise that fertile land is abundant but, in practice, this land is almost always occupied. This means that large-scale agricultural projects are driving people off their land. An example is the case of the Maasai of Mabwegere, who are being dealt with harshly.

Land, water and access to natural resources become scarcer due to climate change, population growth, and the increasing demand for land for investment.
The Tanzanian government wants to develop the country by attracting investors, and for that it needs land.

Maasai unwelcome in their own village

The village of Mabwegere in the district of Kilosa in the Tanzanian province of Morogoro is home to 4105 nomadic pastoralist Maasai, while the surrounding villages are made up of crop farmers.

Although Mabwegere is an officially registered village and the Maasai have been living there since the 1950s, the elites and the local government are abusing their power so as to drive out the Maasai and to drive a wedge between the crop farmers and the cattle herders. They want to use the land for speculation or for growing crops.

This fuels the conflicts between these two groups, who are given less and less land and living space.

The first time the local authorities tried to evict the farmers was in January 2009. We interviewed nine men and seven women from the village who were there at that time. For their own safety, they prefer to remain anonymous.

‘The district administration gave the order to seize the cattle. They wanted to cash in the cattle and evict herders to give the land to agriculturists,’ says one of the village elders.

During the large-scale operation to remove pastoralists from Kilosa, police and paramilitary units throughout the district confiscated their livestock.

© Ebe Daems

Young Maasai herder in Mabwegere

The villagers say 5000 cows and goats were seized in their village alone, but the exact number is difficult to determine. A report of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) shows estimates ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 or 300,000 confiscated animals in the entire district.

‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. The police sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam.’

‘We tried to stop them, but the police held us at gunpoint and fired warning shots. They bombarded us with teargas and beat people,’ says a villager.

‘There were at least 200 of them and there were also people from neighboring villages with whom we don’t get along.’

All the cattle were herded into large stables. The villagers had to pay a fine of 30,000 Tanzanian shillings, about 15 Euros, for each cow and 5 Euros for a goat or sheep.

‘Although we paid the fines, we never saw our cattle again. They sold every animal at a large cattle market in Dar es Salaam,’ says one of the villagers.

Read MORE:

Tanzania accused of backtracking over sale of Masai’s ancestral land

Cattle, Capitalism, and Class: Ilparakuyo Maasai Transformations

Land grabbing

The Maasai’s livelihood depends entirely on their cattle. At the time of the seizure, a cow was worth about 500 Euros on average. People were left in poverty.

‘We had no money to buy cattle. Some borrowed cows from relatives to survive, but those who were not so lucky still have nothing today,’ said one of the villagers.

‘The cows were all we had,’ says one of the women from the village. ‘We cannot grow crops. Our sons moved to the city. They now live far away in Iringa.’

Blocking access to water may be a strategic move to prevent the Maasai from returning to their territory.

Farmers from neighboring villages used the chaos to their advantage by occupying Maasai land and using it to grow crops.

Much of the land they confiscated is located at the river and drinking spots.

The farmers let the IGWIA know that blocking the herders’ water access was a strategic move to prevent them from returning to their territory.

One of the women shows a plastic bottle that appears to be filled with lemonade: ‘This is our water. We no longer have proper water. The cattle can’t drink it. It makes us ill, too.
Whenever we have our blood tested, the results show we have typhoid. When we want to let our cattle drink from the rivers, the farmers who are now growing tomatoes and sugarcane stop us. We have to get our water from puddles.’

© Ebe Daems

The women show their drinking water.

‘We sued those farmers but lost the case, even though in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that Mabwegere officially belongs to us’, says one of the men from the village.

‘We have been living here since 1956. The local government is ignoring court orders.’

‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.’

One of the reasons why the local authorities ignore court orders may be that the district administration has already given parts of the region to influential people without following the legal procedures.

‘There are rich people from the cities that want our land’, says one of the older women from the village. ‘What are they expecting? That we’re going to live in trees like baboons or birds?’

According to the men from the village, some of those who want their land are in the government themselves: ‘The government considers this a good region for farming rice. There are important people in the government who are particularly interested in this land.

That’s why they are turning our neighbors against us. They are conducting a hate campaign, portraying us as violent and uncivilized.’

Murder, arson and rape

This hate campaign also fits in with the policies and discourse of Jakaya Kikwete, who was president of Tanzania until late 2015. Kikwete considered the lifestyle of the nomadic cattle farmers unproductive and outdated, something that didn’t belong in a modern state.
He stated in his speech at the start of his tenure that the people of Tanzania should go from being nomadic herders to become modern sedentary farmers.

FOTO Young Maasai herder in Mabwegere
© Ebe Daems

‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.’

© Ebe Daems

Young Maasai herder in Mabwegere

Local politicians continue to incorrectly label the nomadic cattle farmers as illegal immigrants who cause conflicts.

In January 2015, the conflict escalated further when residents of the neighboring villages invaded Mabwegere.

‘They came with clubs, spears and machetes. They tried to seize our cattle. They torched houses and raped women.

The IWGIA report that six women were raped, the villagers themselves say there were four. ‘The real number is much higher’, says Maasai leader Chris.

Chris is not his real name, because he, too, fears persecution. He represents 200,000 people and, in the past, he has reported to the UN about the situation in Tanzania.

‘Women in my community can’t say they’ve been raped. They feel it would damage their reputation’, says Chris.

Chris believes those who attacked the village were trained units.

‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’

‘The elite are financing these conflicts. They want our land in order to sell it to investors. They finance the farmers from neighboring villages and train them to fight. This is not just a conflict, it’s war.’

‘Women and children are the most vulnerable during such violence’, say the women. ‘The men are often away from home and can stay in the cities or in the forest, but we are always at home to take care of the children. We have nowhere to go.’

The trauma runs deep. The women of the village cry when talking about the seizure of the cattle in 2009 and about the more recent rapes. A recurring theme is their indignation about the fact that they do not get help in coping with the traumatic events.

‘After the invasion in 2015, the representative of the regional government even came to the village, but nothing happened. Everything stayed the way it was and no one was punished’, says a resident.

Since the cattle seizure, there has been a culture of impunity. The cattle farmers sued at different levels of government, but to no avail. They were given no protection at all.

The Tanzanian newspaper Daily News did report this February that the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau has started investigating politicians and others who may have spurred on the conflict.

Land disputes and demarcation

Mabwegere is not an isolated case. The IWGIA has gathered statements from cattle herders in about twenty villages in five provinces of Tanzania. The general narrative is always the same.

Tanzanian NGO HAKIARDHI reported in 2012 that, in the span of a year, there were 1825 land disputes in courts and, in sixty percent of those, a powerful investor was involved.

The village of Mabwegere is located in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor (SAGCOT). The government, donors and the private sector want to realize this fertile region’s agricultural potential and modernize it through public-private cooperation, focusing on small-scale farmers.

© Ebe Daems

Maasai boys become warriors during the rite of passage, which takes place every three years.

This supports the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NASFN), an initiative launched in 2012 by the G8 in order to pull 50 million people in Africa out of poverty and hunger through public-private cooperation in the agricultural sector.

The initiative is supported by the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

In this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.

The NAFSN projects are aimed at the SAGCOT region.

The Tanzanian government promised to demarcate the SAGCOT region’s land in order to obtain the support of the NAFSN.

This would allow the government to create a mechanism to provide investors with land in a correct and transparent way.

A clear demarcation could help villagers secure the rights to their land. However, in this case, the demarcation is not intended for securing the rights of the villagers, but for providing security to investors.

Paolo De Meo of Terra Nuova, an NGO cooperating with the Hands on the Land coalition, considers EU policy partially responsible for the land grabbing.

‘Nomadic cattle farmers are one of the most vulnerable communities, because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’

‘EU support of African agriculture is increasingly focused on expanding an industrial agricultural model. This makes nomadic cattle farmers one of the most vulnerable communities, because their grasslands are considered unused and because their lifestyle is not productive from an industrial perspective.’

Edward Louré of the Tanzanian NGO Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT), which supports the rights of nomadic cattle farmers and hunter-gatherers, is also concerned.

‘The NAFSN is receiving much support from the World Bank. We are worried because the project documentation for the NAFSN does not mention the rights of indigenous peoples. This is unusual for the World Bank. They know much about the rights of indigenous peoples.

Their silence in this matter leads us to assume that they are allowing the ousting of local communities to make room for big investors.’

Land that isn’t there

Tanzania divides all land into three categories. Under SAGCOT, the only category accessible to investors is general land, but this only constitutes two percent of the land. The other two categories are village land and reserved land.

The president can convert village land into general land if this serves public interest, such as in agricultural projects. SAGCOT wants to increase the percentage of general land in the region from 2 to 20 percent.

This would free up 350,000 hectares of land for agriculture and would require converting village land or reservations to general land.

‘The World Bank does not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’

Professor Lusugga Kironde of the Ardhi University conducted a non-published study for the World Bank concerning land matters in the SAGCOT region.

‘The World Bank requested that study because they wanted to know if the land is really available. We believe it is not. The World Bank wants to know which steps they need to take in order to acquire the land. They do not want to be accused of facilitating land grabs.’

© Ebe Daems

Maasai boys become warriors during the rite of passage, which takes place every three years.

‘The conflicts between farmers and nomadic pastoralists are a clear sign that there is no free and available land’, says Professor Kironde.

‘If the land were available, we would not be seeing these conflicts. Farmers would not be taking the nomadic pastoralists’ land if they had enough land available themselves.

The conflicts are growing in frequency and lethality. A project like SAGCOT is impossible without taking families’ land.’

Investors who want land have to go through the Tanzanian Investment Center (TIC). A TIC employee, who wished to testify only anonymously, also agrees that there is no land available.

‘Now that they are revising policy, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.’

‘There is no indisputably available land. The procedures to make land available for investing are time-consuming, because the village land needs to be converted into general land. The investors have to wait for months until the conversion is complete.’

National policy concerning land is currently being revised, which worries Professor Kironde.

‘There is much pressure because it is difficult for investors to gain access to land. Now that policy is being revised, there is a strong lobby that wants to convert village land to general land in order to make it available to investors. If this happens, it will lead to large-scale land grabs.

It will take some time, because converting all land to general land would require changes to the constitution. However, the process could become more simplified and faster.

‘It would be good if they could shorten the procedures for conversion, for instance by involving the Minister for Lands rather than the President’, says the TIC employee.

No budget for proper consultations

State organization RUBADA (Rufiji Basin Development Authority) is in charge of the demarcation of the land under SAGCOT. This organisation visits villages to demarcate land and, at the same time, tries to attract investors.

RUBADA made Tanzanian headlines last year because of a corruption scandal involving the disappearance of about one million Euros of development and investment money.

‘One of our main goals is attracting investments in the SAGCOT region’, says RUBADA Director for Planning and Investment John Rutabwaba.

A RUBADA employee told academic Mikael Bergius that they handle as many villages as possible each day. Bergius has been researching agricultural development in Tanzania for decades at the Norwegian University NMBU and for the Oakland Institute thinktank.

‘We cannot adequately consult the villagers because we lack the budget’, says Rutabwaba. ‘We are a governmental organisation, but the government doesn’t support us. Luckily, we’ve gotten some help from the UNDP, otherwise we would not be able to do anything at all.’

Ebe Daems & Kweli Ukwethembeka Iqiniso
This article was created with the support of Journalismfund.eu

Translation coordinated by Koen Van Troos


Tanzanian Farmers Face Heavy Prison Sentences for Traditional Seed Exchange

Tanzanian farmers are facing heavy prison sentences if they continue their traditional seed exchange

Ebe Daems | 7 december 2016 | MO*MEDEWERKERS

In order to receive development assistance, Tanzania has to give Western agribusiness full freedom and give enclosed protection for patented seeds. “Eighty percent of the seeds are being shared and sold in an informal system between neighbors, friends and family. The new law criminalizes the practice in Tanzania,” says Michael Farrelly of TOAM, an organic farming movement in Tanzania.


In order to get developmental assistance, Tanzania amended its legislation, which should give commercial investors faster and better access to agricultural land as well as a very strong protection of intellectual property rights.

‘If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto under the new legislation, they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa’, says Michael Farrelly.

Under the new law, Tanzanian farmers risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years or a fine of over €205,300, or both, if they sell seeds that are not certified.

‘That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day’, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT).

Under pressure of the G8

Tanzania applied the legislation concerning intellectual property rights on seeds as a condition for receiving development assistance through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The NAFSN was launched in 2012 by the G8 with the goal to help 50 million people out of poverty and hunger in the ten African partner countries through a public-private partnership. The initiative receives the support of the EU, the US, the UK, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Companies that invest in the NAFSN are expected to pay attention to small-scale farmers and women in their projects, but sometimes little of that is noticed. As a result, the NAFSN receives a lot of criticism from NGOs and civil-society movements. Even the European Parliament issued a very critical report in May this year to urge the European Commission to take action.

‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind the G8.’

With the changes in the legislation, Tanzania became the first least-developed country to join the UPOV 91-convention. All countries that are members of the World Trade Organization must include intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, but the least-developed countries are exempt from recognizing any form of intellectual property rights until 2021. After that, the issues would be reviewed.

‘In practice, it means that the fifty million people that the New Alliance wants to help can escape from poverty and hunger only if they buy seeds every year from the companies that are standing behind de G8,” says Michael Farrelly.

‘As a result, the farmers’ seed system will collapse, because they can’t sell their own seeds”, according to Janet Maro. ‘Multinationals will provide our country with seeds and all the farmers will have to buy them from them. That means that we will lose biodiversity, because it is impossible for them to investigate and patent all the seeds we need. We’re going to end up with fewer types of seeds.’

Read MORE:

Seed laws that criminalise farmers: resistance and fightback

Seeds of Freedom Tanzania: A film

The two faces of farming in Oxford


‘I have seeds of my family, because my great-grandmother used them. She gave them to my grandmother, who gave them to my mother and my mother then gave them to me. I’ve planted them here in the demonstration garden in Morogoro and that’s why very rare plants now grow here’, says Janet Maro. ‘Local farmers find it hard to understand the idea that you can patent and own a seed. Seed should simply be something that is easily available”, says Janet Maro.

Ownership for investments

‘Intellectual property rights ensure that farmers have better access to technology’, claims Kinyua M’Mbijjewe, head of Corporate Affairs in Africa for Syngenta. Syngenta is a Swiss company that produces seeds and agrochemicals alongside Yara, one of the two largest players in the private sector in the NAFSN.

‘A company that wants to invest wants to be sure that its technology is protected. African farmers have been sharing, bartering and trading their seeds as a form of tradition. For farmers who want to continue to do so, it is important that they have that choice.’ Kinyua M’Mbijjewe claims not to be aware that the Tanzanian legislation no longer allows that freedom of choice. This is strange, since Syngenta is one of the companies that is part of the leadership council of the NAFSN, meaning that they negotiate directly with the partners about the changes in legislation which must be met in exchange for aid.

Nevertheless, according to the Tanzanian Government, the legislation never intended to penalize small-scale farmers, only to protect their property rights – that is, if they patent their own seeds.

‘Small-scale farmers do not have the means to get a patent for their seeds.’

‘But who’s going to sell non-certified seeds? Small-scale farmers do not have the means to get a patent for their seeds’, says Janet Maro.

“The government is working on a revision of the seed legislation. We hope that they will add an exception for small-scale farmers and will expand the Quality Declared Seed System,” says Michael Farrelly.

The Quality Declared Seed System gives quality guarantee for seed. It is a kind of compromise, because quality is cheaper and easier to obtain than a patent.

Currently, a farmer is allowed to sell recognized seeds in only three surrounding villages, but the government says it wants to expand this at the district level with the new legislation. ‘That way, the seeds could be sold in seventy villages, which is economically viable,” says Farrelly.

© Ebe Daems

Janet Maro, head of SAT, in the demonstration garden in Morogoro

Removal of trade barriers

An additional problem is that the seeds of foreign companies are not always adapted to the local climate. ‘What works in Utrecht doesn’t necessarily work in Zanzibar,’ says Michael Farrelly. Tanzania alone has five different climate zones. ‘Even the region of Morogoro has different climate zones,” says Janet Maro.

‘Africa’s trade barriers have not pushed forward the farmers and the economy.’

Yet soon it will be easier for seeds from different regions to enter the country, and other African countries are on the way to follow Tanzania’s example. In 2015, eighteen African countries signed the Arusha Protocol for the protection of new plant varieties.

The purpose is that all countries would try to work on eliminating the trade barriers and incorporate intellectual property rights on seeds in their legislation, in order to achieve a harmonized regional system. Among others, the Community Plant Variety Office, an EU agency for the protection of plant varieties as intellectual property, invariably takes part in all meetings related to the Protocol.

Syngenta believes that these measures will help advance Africa: ‘We are pleased that it is finally going in the right direction after years of negotiations,’ says Kinyua M’Mbijjewe. ‘The EU has a harmonized policy regarding the seeds that are allowed to be brought into another country. In Africa this doesn’t exist. You could not bring seeds from Kenya over the border to Tanzania, an area with the same climate zone. Africa’s trade barriers have not pushed forward the farmers and the economy.’

More intensive farming?

In order to feed the world population by 2050, the World Bank and FAO (the UN food agency) state that food production must increase by half. A figurative war is fought regarding the approach to increase production, but there will likely be many victims among the small-scale farmers.

According to the business world, Africa needs more agricultural inputs: fertilizers, hybrid seeds, pesticides… But is the commercial approach best suited to help the poorest segment of the population?

‘The small-scale farmers are not our target.’

All the development initiatives of the NAFSN in Tanzania focus exclusively on the most fertile part of the country. The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) covers much of the southern half of the country. Fertile soil easily attracts investors. But what about the farmers who are located in less-than-ideal regions? Or what about the statement by the World Bank (2008 report) that input subsidies for fertilizer in Zambia were beneficial mainly for relatively rich farmers rather than for the small-scale farmers whom the subsidies were meant to benefit? Another essential fact: this type of intensive farming is one of the biggest causes of global warming.

Syngenta itself has admitted that it is logical that they, as a company, have little concern for the less successful farmers. ‘We are a commercial company and therefore we invest in Africa. We believe that Africa is done with development aid and that it is now all about trade,” concludes Kinyua M’Mbijjewe. ‘The small-scale farmers are not our target. We focus on small-scale farmers trying to grow businesses and we are happy to work with NGOs that have a commercial approach. Farmers who merely try to survive or operate in an unfavorable climate are left out.’

© Ebe Daems

Janet Maro, head of SAT, in the demonstration garden in Morogoro

Agro-ecological alternative

Many farmer organizations and FAO have more faith in ecological methods. Particularly the smaller-scale farmers would benefit from it, because they usually cannot afford the expensive inputs for conventional agriculture.

Janet Maro, on the other hand, works in challenging rural areas. Together with SAT, she trains small-scale farmers in agro-ecological farming methods. SAT teaches farmers to do farming with what is available in their surroundings.

‘After our training, there were many farmers with good results who questioned why they should still go into town to buy expensive synthetic fertilizer.’

‘Our training center is located in the dry areas of Vianze, which most people would claim to be impossible to farm,’ says Janet Maro. ‘If we can do it there, we can do it anywhere. We plant additional trees that hold back the water when it rains, so that it is incorporated into the soil, and we have an irrigation system with water bottles, so we consume less water.’

‘We teach small-scale farmers how to make compost with the plants they cut in their fields. We also teach them to do mixed cropping and to make extracts from plants that grow in their surroundings in order to control crop pests and diseases. The most common pest, for example, is the aphid. You can make an extract of Lantana camara, a shrub that grows in almost every village in Tanzania, to control the aphids,’ says Janet Maro.

‘We also trained farmers in a region where they were given government subsidies to purchase fertilizer. After our training, there were many farmers with good results who questioned why they should still go into town to buy expensive synthetic fertilizer, as they can have a good harvest and can fight pests with resources that are available in their own fields. Those farmers returned their vouchers for subsidized fertilizer to the government. The government has now also come knocking on our door, asking us to train farmers.’

© Ebe Daems

Shop in Morogoro where products manufactured by farmers who work with SAT are sold.

Choosing between grandmother and industry

‘Doing nothing and thinking that you can continue with what your grandmother grew, is a guaranteed catastrophe’, says Kinyua M’Mbijjewe from Syngenta. ‘The reason we have hunger in Africa is that there are insufficient agricultural inputs.’

‘Doing nothing and thinking that you can continue with what your grandmother grew, is a guaranteed catastrophe.’

Abel Lyimo, the CEO of the Tanzanian Rural Urban Development Initiatives, a NGO that focusses on the development of small-scale farmers through the private sector, thinks the same: ‘Tanzania is one of the countries with the lowest use of farm inputs and the lowest productivity in the world. There is a link between proper use of inputs and productivity. Use only half, and you’ll produce only half.’

Janet Maro contradicts that. ‘In the Mlali Region, there were projects in which they gave the farmers parcels of land to grow tomatoes. It went really well for a while and they produced a huge quantity of tomatoes, but this year things went wrong. The price of a bucket of tomatoes ranged between two and three Euros. Nowadays, because of the overproduction, you have to consider yourself lucky if you get 40 cents. Now, the farmers can no longer afford those expensive fertilizers and chemicals.’

‘And I haven’t even started to mention the environmental damage and the deterioration in soil fertility that these projects cause. The government has asked us to train farmers because the quality and quantity of the water from the Mzinga and Ruvu Rivers have considerably worsened because of the government’s agricultural projects. They want to save the situation before it is too late and have seen that the projects of SAT have a much better impact on the environment.’

Even the United Nation’s former Special Rapporteur for the Right for Food, Olivier De Schutter, stresses the importance of more research and investment in agro-ecological methods in a report in 2011.

According to FAO figures, more than 80 percent of the food in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa is produced by small-scale farmers. If they cannot afford commercial inputs, they can still make progress with agro-ecological methods. The methods are not immediately patentable and therefore the industry treats them shabbily. An unfortunate consequence of this is that insufficient research is being done into such methods.

Ebe Daems & Kweli Ukwethembeka Iqiniso
This article was created with the support of Journalismfund.eu

Translation coordinated by Koen Van Troos


stories from: Skin | Colour | Race | Caste – Made in India

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