News from the Annals of Censorship


China has launched its newest censorship tool, which has been dubbed the Great Cannon.  Unlike the Great Firewall, which stops Chinese inside China from accessing online news, the Great Cannon takes aim at websites outside China. As the Guardian writes,

The first use of the Great Cannon came in late March, when the coding site GitHub was flooded by traffic leaving it intermittently unresponsive for multiple days. The attack, using a method called “distributed denial of service” or DDoS, appeared to be targeting two specific users of the site: the New York Times’ Chinese mirror, and anti-censorship organisation

Writing in Fortune, Robert Hackett said China had “weaponised its internet”, and it could even use these means to disseminate malware.   The term was coined by a team at Citizen Lab, who wrote this report, concluding:

Conducting such a widespread attack clearly demonstrates the weaponization of the Chinese Internet to co-opt arbitrary computers across the web and outside of China to achieve China’s policy ends.  The repurposing of the devices of unwitting users in foreign jurisdictions for covert attacks in the interests of one country’s national priorities is a dangerous precedent — contrary to international norms and in violation of widespread domestic laws prohibiting the unauthorized use of computing and networked systems.

For the technically minded, here’s an illustration from Citizen Lab.

Citizen Lab

Citizen Lab

Meanwhile Turkey has blocked Facebook and Twitter this week, and there are more concerns about Facebook’s plans to to host news directly from partner organizations, especially given Facebook’s record.

Close watchers of the social media site know that most of the time you only see around 6 percent of what your friends post. For organizations who want their followers to see their posts, it’s even less…..Worse, that filtering algorithm has increasingly turned into a pay-for-play system from news organizations. Want more people to see your content? Then “boost” your posts by shelling out some money. This already has turned Facebook into something of a two-tiered content sharing system, where the rich will inevitably see their stories go “viral” (if you can even call it that) much faster than will the poor. This inequality gap will only be exacerbated as more news organizations move over to publishing directly and the pressure—whether it be overt or implied—on those holding out increases.

Final presentations begin tomorrow.  The schedule is as follows:

Tuesday: Robyn, Ella and Rana; Yardian, Evan and Savannah; Taryn, Alli and Carolyn.

Thursday: Christina, Vishal and Collin; Shelby and Kasie.

The State of Journalism




Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre, when American soldiers civilians killed more than 500 Vietnamese in 1968.  Now he’s gone to the scene of the crime to My Lai for the New Yorker.  CJR has a great Q&A where he talks about the state of journalism today:

What is your advice to younger journalists?

It’s real simple. One is: Read before you write. And the other one is: Get the fuck out of the way of the story. There’s no such thing as a sensational story. There’s a story that if you write it right is sensational.

Can you say more about the BuzzFeeds and the Gawkers of the world becoming good for investigative journalism?

There will probably always be a New York Times. And The New York Times, for all my kvetching, it’s still the paper. And it still does great investigative reporting. I can’t stand some of its foreign coverage because it’s instinctively anti-Russian, anti-Iran, anti-Syrian. I don’t like that. My own preference and my own view is: Things are more complicated than you think. There’s nothing like The New York Times, but its prognosis is it can’t be good. I’m not suggesting that its necessarily hemorrhaging money, but it can’t be good…..

What I hate to see, and what I think I see even in the mainstream papers, even in the Times, a story that, they get a tip on something, and they run the tip. Like the whole story about Hillary Clinton’s emails, they did break the story and they got a lot of credit…..I get to the point where I want to know who’s telling what. And because normally if the story hadn’t come, let’s say, from the Clintons—I’m just speaking heuristically—normally if you really got that story from someone on the inside, you would then make an effort on the inside to try and do more with it. You wouldn’t have to pay it off right away. Because when you broke the story you really didn’t know much.

And I’m not crushing his reporting. It was a fine story, and I’m glad it was done. But I just wonder who they owed that story to, because they went real quick with it. I see too many stories that are tips when they get into the paper, when I would take more time and see what’s going on in the story before I make it public.

For my second piece, the CJR autopsy on the Rolling Stone rape story, which found “a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable.”

“The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s [the main source’s] narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from.”

Here’s are some useful summaries.  Basic findings:  CALL your sources.  VERIFY any information, no matter how sensitive, from numerous sources.  BEWARE of anonymity. Give those accused an opportunity to respond to the story. CHECK and DOUBLE-CHECK all details.

Details of Tuesday’s class below

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