A YOUTUBE video posted by Adam Spires, substantiates claims that millions of gallons of drinking water are being allowed to escape, flowing downstream from a major dam, apparently to save farmers. Posted earlier this month, the video shows the sluice gates are open at a dam site outside of Cape Town, posing the question why is this happening? With Zero Day approaching, and the water crisis beginning to impact upon households, why are wealthy farmers in the country’s wine estates benefitting? Is this another case of the Stellenbosch Mafia coming first while ordinary citizens’ needs are sacrificed? Why are local media houses publishing incorrect information on water shortages?
KOOS BEKKER is a very rich South African. He effectively controls a massive portion of South African news and media. In many ways, he can be considered the Rupert Murdoch of Africa. He has a net worth of roughly $1.6 billion and is the chairman of Naspers, which controls or owns outlets such as the South African Huffington Post.
Rupert Murdoch is an apt comparison; he’s not the only billionaire who has a huge stake in journalism. The owners also aren’t exclusively in news media, and to many, their news outlets are a side project, a way to project power or simply something to have (like a car or an extra mansion).
Naspers and Ties to Censorship
Corporations and the extremely wealthy, as a general rule, do not care much about censorship. In fact, the only thing most of them will oppose is a lack of profits. For example, Naspers was complicit in the apartheid regime, and the Afrikaans press was used to keep the oppressive regime in place. They’ve apologized for their actions, but this only occurred far after apartheid turned out to be the losing side. In other words: when it was profitable and politically expedient to do so.
Naspers, having many interests that get in the way of the truth and holding ties to many companies and countries that can prove to be a competing influence (as opposed to the public good), is the perfect example of this.
To go into more detail, Naspers owns Media24, a media group that states it’s interested in freedom of the press and other media freedoms. Yet that comes into conflict with the fact that Naspers’ largest stake is in Tencent, a Chinese tech and social media company who enforces social media censorship by the Chinese government.
This raises a major concern: Do Naspers’ Chinese ties and Koos Becker’s business interests compromise the integrity of South African news? It would be easy for such a company to keep a few unfavorable stories quiet.
Even just fifty years ago it would be considered possible for a new startup, with some capital and resolve, to break into the news and media business and hope to succeed.
Now, given the equipment that is needed and the poor returns in general of the newspaper business (or the entire news industry), along with the fast-paced nature of online news, journalism is a rich man’s game, and that isn’t a good thing. In America, for example, 90 percent of their media is controlled by six companies. South Africa’s situation is hardly different.
These barriers to entry remove variety from the press, eliminating competition and lowering the standards of news for people. People will either get compromised or poorly-formed journalism or nothing at all. Unfortunately, there are few examples showing there’s a better way.
Voices Get Silenced
If the press isn’t free from corporate interests, it’s hardly different from government control. It’s merely serving a different entity with different priorities. Larger entities tied to power won’t report on threats to that power to avoid giving them their justified attention and public interest. When was the last time you heard about the Shack Dweller’s movement and their protests on a major station?
Individual voices and good journalists also get regularly silenced when they try to make the difference. Desmond Cole and the Toronto Star is merely one example of this outside of South Africa. Others accuse the media, including News24, of not showing good news whatsoever and inciting violence amongst the people.
People Fighting Back
The situation looks grim, but people can and will fight back against the oligarchic control of information perfectly encapsulated by Naspers’ actions. Billionaires, try as they might, do not have control of reality.
Citizen journalism has become a trend with the advent of social media and information technology. A video at a scene cannot be so easily denied as false, and a trending topic or a viral post cannot be so easily ignored by the media elites if they want to keep credibility with the public. While it’s not perfect and certainly does not meet the standards of independent professionals, its mere existence is a threat to corporate control and a step forward.
Other people continue to expose the truth while hiding from the limelight (and the wrath of those companies). People will cover their tracks and use tools such as online proxies to stay anonymous as they bring us the truth about conglomerates, from inside or without. Without people like this willing to fight back, there’s no telling what the state of the news media would be today.
This problem will not go away on its own, and it will likely get worse before it gets better. People need to know what is happening and how the billionaires are controlling them to feel the anger to fight back. There are more protagonists out there besides Naspers, and even if one person is taken out of the news arena, more will appear, blocking genuine change in the way things are done or avoiding a viable alternative. There is a chance to change the flow of information, and South Africans can’t afford to miss out.
Do you happen to know anything else about Naspers or have a story you would like to share? Are you concerned about the growing consolidations of private media and the news? What else do you think they’re hiding? Please leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts.
THIS YEAR marks 30 years since the banning of the ‘Towards the People’s Culture’ festival by the Botha government in 1986, with a festival event appropriately titled Marking the ’86 People’s Culture Festival
The original festival was meant to gather prominent artists in a collective response to the injustices of apartheid whilst deploying the arts as a tool for social justice. Instead we all found ourselves on the wrong side of the law, as the de facto military junta behind the Botha government clamped down on student resistance to apartheid, unleashing strong-arm tactics that would result in the banning of artists and musicians.
A pivotal moment, I remember walking down Loop Street, Cape Town, having just received the news that the festival which included bands such as Smoking Brass and Raakwys, had been banned, and thinking, now the @#$& has really hit the fan. It came as a big shock, still in my debut first year at UCT, and merely a member of a Nusas sub-committee, (signed up upon orientation), assisting with the festival, we found to our horror, that the colour of ones skin was absolutely no protection from the ‘State of Emergency’.
If a bunch of white, privileged students, including Ivan Toms could get banned en masse, where would it ever end? If music was illegal, where was the humanity in the system we were opposing?
The suppression of the festival radicalised students, many of whom ended up participating in covert underground operations. It also lead to the creation of the Kagenna Project & Earthlife Africa, as the reality started of ad hoc bannings, the police invasion of campus, the very next year, and the eventual outright banning of the End Conscription Campaign two years later.
Not broken in spirit, there would still be many underground festivals, and secret arts venues where students for instance pretended to go to a Woman’s Rights or Gay Rights party, only for it to turn into a full-blown Anti-Apartheid Event, replete with appearances by banned & underground MK cadres.
Love affairs would occur across the barricades. Spies on campus would be uncovered. A dirty tricks campaign would manifest itself. We would get regular visits from the special branch or stopped and searched by the apartheid military, those infamous conscripts in casspirs, as the State of Emergency made itself felt, even in leafy Atlantic garden suburbs.
This 10 December 2016 we will mark the banning through a series of events that include a market, musical performances, live installations and a symbolic lantern procession through the streets of Salt River.
Organisers of the commemorative event, Cornerstone CEO, Noel Daniels, said on Friday, “This event will not only mark the banning of the festival, but will also comprise a symbolic unbanning.”
Acclaimed Cape Town songstress Tina Schouw will reflect on the halcyon period in the 80’s.
Another iconic 80’s band Raakwys ( featuring Valmont Layne, Andre Sampie and Aki Khan) will perform songs that look back at just how far we’ve come along on the road to freedom.
Mthwakazi will ‘honour the sense of ceremony with her mesmerizing and haunting hybridized style of music’ which is apparently a crossover between Xhosa Indigenous Bow music and Opera.
Sylvestre Kabassidi will close the night with sounds from his native Ponte Noire, DRC.
The full programme is as follows:
16:00 Market opens
17:00 Performance by Tina Schouw
19:30 People’s Education participatory liberation songs intervention
20:00 Lantern procession through Salt River (lanterns available for purchase at the Market)
20:15 Performance by Mthwakazi
21:00 Performance by Sylvestre Kabassidi
Parking is available at 121 Cecil Road, Salt River for R10.
Media Enquiries: Ukhona Mlandu, 084 462 2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org
General Enquiries: Hylton Bergh, 021 448 0050 or email@example.com
On 23rd March the United Nations Human Rights Committee released its assessment on South Africa’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The report includes a blistering attack on the Government for failing to respect the privacy of the communications of users and makes recommendations to reform the laws and practice of surveillance in the country.
The Committee’s findings repudiated the Government’s claims that its surveillance practices, based on the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communications-related Information Act(or, RICA, as it’s commonly called in South Africa), are justifiable, given the country’s extremely high crime rate and the global terrorist threat.
RICA makes it illegal to intercept communications without a warrant from a designated judge (the “RICA” judge). Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are authorised to use the Act to assist investigations, providing they follow the procedures in the Act.
South Africa’s Parliament passed RICA into law along with other anti-terrorist laws in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. The world was in shock at the brutality of the attacks, and in South Africa, citizens were also crime-weary after a massive crime spike in the late 1990’s. As a result, many were more open to rights-reducing laws like RICA. But more people are realising that, in their freedom, they may have given an important element of their freedom away, namely the privacy of their communications.
In the past, when there has been political ferment in the ruling party, different factions have abused their access to the communications surveillance capacities of the state to spy on their perceived opponents. The full extent of these problems came to light in 2008 when a ministerial report into these abuses was leaked to the press (known as the Matthews Commission report).
The Matthews Commission proposed wide-ranging reforms to prevent similar abuses from occurring again. However, there is little reason to believe that these reforms have been implemented. One of the practices the Matthews Commission criticised was that mass surveillance did not fall under RICA. The UN Committee has amplified this criticism in its report.
There are two interception centres in South Africa: The Office for Interception Centres (OIC), which is established by RICA to undertake communication interception, and The National Communications Centre (NCC), which undertakes mass surveillance, and which isn’t established or regulated by any law. This lack of regulation and oversight renders such mass surveillance unlawful and unconstitutional. After the Matthews Commission report was released, the-then Ministry of Intelligence developed two Bills to regulate the activities of the NCC. However, once the Jacob Zuma Presidency assumed office, both Bills were shelved.
This means that the most powerful mass surveillance machine of the state is the one that is least regulated: an issue that should concern South Africans greatly, as the Government has a track record of abusing such power.
Other abuses have come to light, despite of the lack of transparency around government spying. Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika, had his communications intercepted by members of the Crime Intelligence Division of the police, on suspicion that his frequent trips to neighbouring Mozambique meant that he was gun-running. Yet in fact, he was pursuing a story for the paper.
Perversely, the Inspector-General of Intelligence – tasked with oversight of South Africa’s intelligence services – declared the interception of wa Afrika’s communications legal, as the police had followed the RICA process. This situation arose because the grounds for the issuing of interception warrants in RICA are vague and speculative. This was another concern in the UN Committee report.
The Committee also expressed concern over weak safeguards, lack of oversight, and lack of remedies against unlawful interference. The RICA judge marks his or her own homework, in that s/he signs off on interception applications, while also being the sole party responsible to report on such decisions in an annual report to Parliament’s intelligence committee.
The Committee also noted that RICA is also weak on metadata protections. RICA requires communications service providers to retain all metadata (or what it calls communications-related information) for 3 to 5 years.
Blanket retention of metadata has become a hugely controversial issue. In 2014, the European Court of Justice struck down the European Union Data Retention Directive saying such retention was disproportionate to the aim it sought to achieve. South Africa remains out of step with this important development, and blanket retention of metadata persists.
Another controversial feature of RICA is the requirement of Subscriber Information Module (SIM) card registration. This is a de-facto violation of privacy because it limits the ability of mobile phone users to communicate anonymously. A growing body of international research also suggests that this measure is useless as a crime-fighting tool, which raises the question of why such a requirement persists in South Africa. More worrying, mass surveillance technologies can also be bolted onto the SIM registration database.
While the Committee did not pronounce on all issues of concerns, such as South Africa’s possible use of IMSI Catchers, and RICA’s lack of user notification, the Committee’s recommendations are a major advancement in the struggle for privacy of communications in South Africa. It is now up to civil society and popular movements to pick up the cudgels and ensure that abuses – to the extent that they exist – are stopped.
Many have argued that in the age of the internet of everything, privacy is dead. Those who make this argument, including in South Africa, appear not to be aware that the struggle for privacy is, in fact, alive and well, and even gaining ground. Happily, the Committee’s report on South Africa shows that reports on the death of privacy are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.
[Ed note: This piece first appeared as: Reports of the death of communications privacy are greatly exaggerated: reflections on recent UN Human Rights Committee’s findings on South Africa, by Privacy International.]
 Mr David Robert Lewis (“applicant”) seeks leave to appeal the Ruling of the Ombudsman dated 5 February 2016 dismissing applicant’s complaints against Independent Newspapers (“respondent”).
 The complaints followed two articles, the second being a follow-up or a continuation, of the first. The stories were reporting the views of one Plum who had been in Hitler’s army during the Second World War. The applicant saw the articles as a “serialisation of a self-confessed member of the Hitler Youth”. The applicant is a member of the Jewish Community living in the country. He says the serialisation of Plum’s own experiences reduces the Jews and Jewish Community to mere “objects of history”, thereby infringing their dignity. He also says that Plum is cast as “a mere accessory, an innocent victim caught up in historical events … beyond his control”, even though he had not objected to the events (the Holocaust and torture of Jews).
 The applicant’s complaints were accurately captured in the Ombudsman’s Ruling:
“He says that these stories discriminated against him, since they represented:
· an extraordinary serialisation of a self-confessed member of the Hitler Youth …;
· a reiteration of the philosophy of Nazidom and its antecedents in German philosophy…..
· a failure to moderate, publish, consult and include the narrative of Jews, … …
· inappropriate content considering world events and especially the events of 13 November 2015; and
· incitement of hatred against the Jewish community and other cultural, linguistic and religious communities … …
Lewis adds that the journalist did not get comment from the Jewish community.”
 The respondent contended that the articles were not written to portray Plum in a positive light but to present a different view of the events of the war; from the perspective of a 11 year old, to 17; did not seek to romanticise or justify the Holocaust but to vent out the view of those German people forced to be part of the Nazi regime. Plum’s views were critical of the Nazi regime; his views were put in inverted commas as his own and that the interview with him was set up 5 days before the Paris massacre (an event applicant referred to apparently to show lack of sensitivity). Applicant, who submitted two lengthy affidavits, also complained that Plum denigrated the Jewish Community by saying that “God is not on the side of the Jews, because Hitler killed them all” (more about this later) and by insinuating that they are not God’s chosen people. Respondent argued that the above phrase is commonly used in both Jewish and Christian publications.
 In his application for leave to appeal, the applicant argues that the Ombudsman has been wrong in his analysis of the matter; he attacks the Ruling in many respects. On the other hand, the respondent supports the Ruling and the reasons behind it. I have read the Ruling and its analysis of the complaints carefully. I do not find fault with it. I need not repeat what the Ombudsman has said. Here lies the fundamental difference between the applicant on the one hand, and the respondent and the Ombudsman on the other: applicant’s complaints are based on his own interpretation of the articles as well as his own apparently good knowledge of the history about the Second World War and the Holocaust. They are not based on what actually appears in the articles. For example, he says his“objection is in reference to the sentiment and nostalgic manner in which the subject of the articles (Mr Plum) views his training, education and interaction (as a teenager soldier).” The applicant infers nostalgia, whereas what Mr Plum said could equally be interpreted as a demonstration of genuinely inspired desire to reveal to all how the Nazi’s went so far as to use children like him. One would therefore need a huge jump to come to the kind of inference the applicant makes from the articles. There is therefore much to be said for respondent’s argument that the applicant “has thus exaggerated the effect of the articles on the ordinary reader”. Only a reader like the applicant with a deep knowledge of the relevant history can place onto the articles the kind of interpretation he does; but not an average reader, for whom the articles were meant. The interpretation applicant places on Plum’s statement that God does not like Jews because He let Hitler kill them, does not amount to denigration of the Jews; it is the kind of lament a bereaved parent would make, to ask God, “if you loved me, why did you let my child die!” The things applicant is complaining about, are really not in the articles, but are a product of his own interpretation, based on his special knowledge of the relevant history. As the Ombudsman says, there is for example no reference in the articles to Baerenfaenger, or other issues alluded to by the applicant. The articles were a presentation of Mr Plum’s views, which were unique; moreover, they were presented as his own and not of the respondent. I too do not agree with applicant’s interpretation of the texts and his conclusions.
 For the above reasons as well as those given by the Ombudsman, I am of the view that the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Committee of the Press Council. The application is therefore turned down.
Dated this 28th day of March 2016
Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel
ED NOTE: The actual complaint makes a distinction between those Jews who believe in the Covenant and those who do not. Although the complainant, a non-Zionist, does not himself accept the central narrative surrounding the Burning Bush, he supports the rights of those who do. Ngoepe’s decision unfortunately redacts the submission and does not record this important distinction.
ED NOTE: The second article on Plum clearly refers to Baerenfaenger and also close ties to Adolf Hitler alongside a narrative demonstrating Plum’s prowess or lack thereof with a rifle. The statement is inaccurate to say the least and grounds for inferring bias.
The complainants submissions to the Ombudsman and Judge Ngoepe are available below.
Rebuttal of INM Appeal Submission
AS A witness, first hand, to gnashing of teeth and unsporting behaviour in the arts, I can only commiserate with those whose writing on the subject is being ignored, only to see their own work exploited for gratis by the Hollywood dream factory.
Get set for the inevitable politically-correct fallout on a loaded subject, one involving exploitation of a major South African historical figure by none other than Beyoncé. (ENTER solicitors stage left).
Beyoncé has announced she plans on writing and starring in her own movie about Saartjie Baartman, “a South African woman who was displayed in London freak shows during the 1800s and nicknamed “Hottentot Venus” because of her large bottom.”
“It’s a very sensitive South African story. To have it vulgarised by Beyoncé” says film-maker Beverly Mitchell, in Independent Online, Tonight. The same criticism was once levelled at William Shakespeare, for producing trashy plays about Italians.
Chiefness Jean Burgess of Plumstead, the spouse of Chief Little, a self-proclaimed Khoisan Chief whose title is disputed. “many privately questioned his legitimacy as a self- proclaimed chief of the Hancumqua and the chiefly status he has bestowed on others in his organisation, the Cape Cultural Heritage Development Council.” was quoted in international media, saying: “She lacks the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah’s story, let alone playing the part,”.
With my teflon coat and flame retardant at hand, I remind myself and others that Rehane Abrahams and Yvette Hardie, once work-shopped a drama on Saartjie Baartman back in the 80s — in a student commune, nogel — the first time the subject had ever received any light as agit prop / vaudeville theatre. Venus Goes Vulger (VGV) had a reasonable run on the Grahamstown Festival in 1989, but died of neglect.
Notable here is that “the play about a big tuchas” and other anatomical details about the female anatomy — in reality an indictment on social darwinism and the colonial gaze — started the trend of similar works on Baartman at theatre festivals, during the latter half of the 20th Century, and thus continuing a tradition began by ‘La Venus Noire’, which ran at the Theatre du Chatelet in 1878 . Recently Brett Bailey, drew crowds and protesters when he explored the self-same VGV material, albeit performance art within a geneology. (A case of shooting the messenger?)
Sadly the student script (which I thought the world of) was a lot better than its burlesque title, which was itself, merely a play on the circus sideshow cabaret in which Saartjie Baartman tragically ended up in a European freak show, next to midgets and the bearded lady. (EXIT girlfriend stage EX). Thus it wasn’t ‘VGV, which won BAFTA awards, understandably, it was more serious treatments which followed, the ones which also failed to acknowledge their precursors, such as Venus by Suzan Lori-Parks (1996) which won two OBIE awards, arguably a mere appropriation of VGV itself, following a period in which the cultural boycott had quashed South African playwrites as well as the apartheid regime.
Since Saartjie’s remains were returned from Paris, and buried in a public ceremony during the Mbeki era, there have been several books written on the subject including Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography by Clifton C. Crais, Pamela Scull. In 2010, a French film production Venus Noire appeared, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.
Beyoncé (and her publicity team) will thus not be the first, nor the last to issue forth verbiage on the subject. Hopefully she will add her unique talent and a voice lacking when it comes to musicals about Saartjie. One however can’t help thinking that fellow artist Nicki Minaj would be a better gamble when it comes to a poignant story featuring a tuchas? Her single Anaconda is better placed in the charts and yes, OMG look at her butt. I therefore take this opportunity to wish Mrs Knowles-Carter good luck and my sincere apologies in advance, for the inevitable comparison, with earlier works.
Beyoncé representatives have since denied that she is involved in the project, of a nevertheless important work.
DO YOU remember when the internet still spread hope? After its invention in the‘80s, we had access to a mass of information, sites such as Napster allowed us to share so-called “private property” easily and, most importantly, we could publish what we had to say ourselves – and people actually listened. It was participatory in nature, without much visible regulation from above. Nowadays, with net neutrality being at risk, mass surveillance and the threat of clamping down on copyright infringements as an excuse for censorship, the web often induces more fear than encouragement.
Narcolepsy sufferer Aaron Bale – mentored by “the internet’s own boy”, Aaron Swartz, and inspired by the success of the SOPA blackout in 2012, when 20 million people effectively stopped an anti-piracy bill – has come up with an idea to return some power to internet users: BitVote. He hopes his project will let us have some say again, without being completely overrun by the powers-that-be.
What is BitVote?
As a decentralised app operating on a BitCoin-like blockchain technology with a KeyValuePair store of data strings everyone can access, BitVote will add value to ideas without a human authority having to oversee the process. The coding will be completely transparent, so everyone can improve, build and analyse the tool as they wish. In the interest of, “I don’t agree with your opinion but I’ll fight for your right to speak it,” it’ll be completely neutral and compatible with all current systems as well as third-party add-ons.
How do I vote?
Votes will be measured in units we can all relate to: minutes, hours and days of our life. You’ll be able to choose a link (or create your own) to something you feel strongly about – say it’s the fight against Monsanto’s food monopoly. After pasting it into BitVote, you can dedicate an appropriate amount of token time to it. If you have 24 vote hours, you could use all 24 hours towards Stop Monsanto. But you could also, if you don’t care about the GMO giants as much, only use four hours (or one, two, five etc.) and save the rest for a different cause. Your vote will be recorded and your available hours will drop accordingly. The time-units are easy for everyone to grasp, yet they’ll provide multiple factors for analysis. What, for instance, is more important – many people spending small vote units on a cause or a few people spending large vote units on a cause?
Bale and BitVote coder Jasper den Ouden haven’t agreed whether all voters will accumulate vote hours from the day BitVote launches or from the day you were born, but the consensus is that the assigning of “vote currency” needs to be equal for all. Importantly, although vote hours will increase every 60 minutes of your life, they’ll gain value through scarcity. This means that those who don’t use the internet so often – the elderly, people living in rural areas or just generally less tech-savvy people – will actually have a stronger impact when things get heavy. Say something drastic happens and a president decides to go to war. The above-mentioned demographic might be motivated to vote and have more hours to spend than enthusiastic internet users who vote everyday.
You might be thinking, how is this different to slacktivism? It’s just a bunch of symbolic hours after all; spent in a virtual system, via a click from your armchair. Bale realises that the vote hours won’t do anything as such. But what they will do, is show what people care about. If you’re fighting for a cause, you might feel more confident addressing it in the real world if you know 80% of BitVoters feel the same way as you. Ultimately – although BitVote can be used for a vast variety of reasons, from market research to activism – the system’s strength is perhaps that it could offer evidence of betrayal. If the Film and Publications Board South Africa says pre-publication censorship on the internet is what the majority wants, citizens could take to BitVote to prove the opposite. Whether a bunch of votes will actually stop officials from executing their plans is hard to imagine, yet – if the system really is widely used by technophiles and technophobes alike – it might be more powerful than a Twitter storm or liking causes on Facebook.
What about mob-votes?
A concern is that a mob of people, who might be very uneducated on the subject they’re voting on, could get together to cast a potentially dangerous vote. Imagine this was, “kill all homosexuals”. Bale tries to explain this problem with what he calls “The Zombie Example”. “If there’s a zombie apocalypse on the rise and 99.9% want to legalise cannibalism, authorities have the option not to act on this, and the population will thank them later. You can use common sense.” Moreover, it’s an alarm bell. If a large number of voters plan to kill homosexuals, he would try to physically intervene. He believes it probably won’t come to tyranny-of-the-majority votes though because of the way people interact online. “Not in close physical proximity, and anonymously. There’s trolling, but there’s not a lot of abuse of authority. The internet doesn’t kill people.”
Also, he explains, if a tyrant boss in an oppressive regime gets a 1000 of his employees to vote at gunpoint, these workers can cast a counter-vote anonymously to get “the asshole fired”. He adds that there are a lot of scams around and BitVote isn’t immune to them – but often people have ways to figure them out. An instant “vote bomb”, in this case a 1000 people voting for a dodgy cause at once, might spur some scepticism.
Although users will be completely anonymous by default, a positive aspect is perhaps that you’ll have the option to disclose your geographical location. Imagine the City of Cape Town decides to evict a group of people from their shacks, again claiming to have the interest of the people at heart. The majority, who are not being evicted from their homes, might vote for the eviction of the shack-dwellers because they don’t understand their conditions – thus providing the City with a plausible back-up to their statement. The affected community could, however, start a location-aware vote to show that everyone who lives in the area does not approve of the eviction. In other words, the people at the river should have more authority to decide whether it’s polluted or not. Bale also points out that, because anyone can build an add-on tool, it’s easy to create filters. This might be useful if BitVote gets flooded with porn.
As well-intentioned as BitVote may sound, if it wants be legitimate and effective, there can only be one user per real-world identity, which is difficult to prove without compromising anonymity. The geek word for this is Sybil security – a tricky problem many organisations are currently trying to solve. While none of them are perfect, the BitVote team members have some ideas. Options could involve “ID pools”, i.e. having users play a game simultaneously, or reputation systems. A lot of methods have loop holes and would be extremely costly though. According to Bale, so-called Sybil attacks, also called “sock puppeting”, are often of a “social nature”, meaning they don’t necessarily involve a lot of technical know-how. Therefore, Bale welcomes everyone to help solve this problem. If you’re a social orientated professional, such as a sociologist, political student, social-engineer hacker, activist, doctor, or just someone with a good idea, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At this stage it’s unclear when BitVote will launch officially – funding still needs to be secured and Sybil security solved – but the team is working on getting a small scale system up and running soon. This will function as an invitation-only experiment for people whose identity has been verified in the real world.
Until then, we might not be sure of the project’s practical implications. But one thing Bale said might be valuable to keep in mind: “With BitVote the concept of authority is constantly changing. The ideas themselves will gain authority, not people.”
What do you think? Are you sceptical? How would you use BitVote?
Please post your ideas, critiques and praise in the comment section – it’s a project everyone is encouraged to participate in.
Text: Christine Hogg