Here are three pieces that have been open in my browser for a few days now, while I kept postponing the urge to write something substantial about each of them. Instead, I’ll simply present them for your consideration, with a paragraph or two on selected areas of possible interest.
First, Bruce Schneier on blockchains, and how it’s debatable that they live up to what many consider one of their key promises: to “displace, reshape, or eliminate trust“. Schneier is an American cryptographer who has written extensively on security issues (his work on airport “security theater” is well-worth reading), and he certainly speaks with authority, even if you might not agree with his analysis.
The proliferation of misinformation on social media – or even just partisan or sensationalistic treatments of politics, science and human relations – could reasonably be considered a threat to democracy itself.
When you add computation propaganda to the mix, where bots are deployed to manipulate public opinion, filter-bubbles form even more readily, and you can now find a closed and self-reinforcing community to reinforce just about any view you can imagine.
A friend of mine once remarked that we can either have democracy or the Internet, but not both. Even if the point is perhaps overstated, interactions on social media, and omnipresent clickbait, certainly contribute to the perception that there’s far more noise than signal on the Internet.
While it’s certainly possible to have productive conversations on social media, those seem – in my experience at least – to have become increasingly rare. Charlie Brooker once listed Twitter as his top pick in the category of video games (in the 2013 show How Videogames Changed the World), and it’s easy to see his point – the platform should perhaps simply be thought of as entertainment rather than as an opportunity for an exchange of ideas.
Unfortunately, I was only able to attend half of one day of the reconvened HPCSA hearings regarding Prof. Tim Noakes and his alleged “professional misconduct”.
I missed what might have been the most interesting day, at least on a personal level, as apparently one of my tweets was read into evidence. This gave Prof. Noakes an opportunity to tell folks that I had a vendetta against him, that I “call myself” someone with philosophical expertise, and so forth.
The IHEU is today releasing a report on discrimination against non-religious people, with examples drawn from all over the world. It makes for interesting reading, because in addition to all the cases that get widespread media attention, the problem of discrimination against the non-religious is perhaps a larger one than many people realise. The report offers many examples of such discrimination, sometimes in the expected places, but also in jurisdictions where you’d hope for freedom from persecution on grounds of non-belief.
Freedom of Thought 2012 covers laws affecting freedom of conscience in 60 countries and lists numerous individual cases where atheists have been prosecuted for their beliefs in 2012. It reports on laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.
The report highlights a sharp increase in arrests for “blasphemy” on social media this year. The previous three years saw just three such cases, but in 2012 more than a dozen people in ten countries have been prosecuted for “blasphemy” on Facebook or Twitter, including:
In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was jailed for two-and-a-half years for Facebook posts on atheism.
In Tunisia, two young atheists, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for Facebook postings that were judged blasphemous.
In Turkey, pianist and atheist Fazil Say faces jail for “blasphemous” tweets.
In Greece, Phillipos Loizos created a Facebook page that poked fun at Greeks’ belief in miracles and is now charged with insulting religion.
In Egypt, 17-year-old Gamal Abdou Massoud was sentenced to three years in jail, and Bishoy Kamel was imprisoned for six years, both for posting “blasphemous” cartoons on Facebook.
The founder of Egypt’s Facebook Atheists, Alber Saber, faces jail time (he will be sentenced on 12 December).
“When 21st century technology collides with medieval blasphemy laws, it seems to be atheists who are getting hurt, as more of them go to prison for sharing their personal beliefs via social media,” said Matt Cherry, the report’s editor. “Across the world the reactionary impulse to punish new ideas, or in some cases the merest expression of disbelief, recurs again and again. We even have a case in Tunisia of a journalist arrested for daring to criticize a proposed blasphemy law!”
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, welcomed the research. In a foreword to the report Bielefeldt notes that there is often “little awareness” that international human rights treaties mean freedom of conscience applies equally to “atheists, humanists and freethinkers and their convictions, practices and organizations. I am therefore delighted that for the first time the Humanist community has produced a global report on discrimination against atheists. I hope it will be given careful consideration by everyone concerned with freedom of religion or belief.”
An advance copy of the Freedom of Thought 2012 report is available from:
http://www.iheu.org/files/IHEU Freedom of Thought 2012.pdf
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world umbrella group bringing together more than 100 Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries.