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Thousands of Venezuelan pro-government twitter accounts deleted

Around 7,000 Venezuelan Twitter accounts were deleted yesterday, including those of an elected state governor, three cabinet ministers, a radio station, a revolutionary daily newspaper, and the official accounts of ministries and other institutions. They all appear to have been pro-government accounts, and none of them of the opposition.

Twitter has been an effective means of communication for supporters of the Bolivarian revolution, since late President Hugo Chavez opened an account in 2010 and reached 4 million followers, making his the second most popular account globally for a political leader, after Barack Obama's.

This appears to have been a coordinated, politically-motivated attack, but we don't know yet how it happened. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler has flatly refused to comment.

There are basically three ways it could have occurred. Large-scale coordinated hacking and deletion of accounts by opposition supporters is a possibility. It could also be that a similar campaign of reporting accounts for spam triggered an algorithm in Twitter which automatically blocked the accounts (I'm being generous to Twiiter here!). Thirdly, and less likely in my opinion, it could be something much more sinister involving Twitter and for instance US Intelligence agencies.

As of this afternoon, some 50 accounts have been restored by Twitter, including those of Governor Aristobal Isturiz, which has 332,000 followers, and of Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez. However most accounts have not been restored, for instance of Minister of the President's Office Wilmer Barrientos and of the Women's Ministry and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela.

It is important to set this attack in social and historical context. After opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came close to winning the Presidential election last April, focus has shifted to the local elections coming on December 8th. Both the Venezuelan opposition and their supporters in the US State Department know that a good showing for the opposition would help build support for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro in 2016. Dirty tricks to derail the Venezuelan government now abound, principally in the form of economic sabotage, creating shortages in shops which the government is battling to combat. Some commentators therefore think the Twitter attack could be a trial for a much bigger taking-out of Bolivarian social media nearer the elections.

The corporate media at home and abroad play a crucial role in this destabilisation. The UK-based Economist had to print a letter from the Venezuelan Embassy in London refuting two erroneous articles on freedom of the press. The standard line, though, is of economic woes, though all social statistics disprove this absolutely. We can all do a bit to refute media distortions. Only last night I corrected the Bloomberg correspondent in Caracas Nathan Crooks (@nmcrooks), who had spouted an egregious error about the minimum wage. Distortion or carelessness? It's impossible to know, though in response he merely repeated the error. But the media lies about Venezuela, including in so-called liberal newspapers, are so blanket that they come to appear like the truth. Journalists don't expect to get called out, so we should.

The Venezuelan government has officially complained to Twitter, and although a few accounts have been restored, is yet to receive a reply. If Twitter PR Nu Wexler maintains this silence, and thousands of accounts remain suspended, it may be appropriate to observe that in his resume he has been in and out of the revolving doors of Capitol Hill, including time as the Communications Director for the House Budget Committee. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious, merely that he is part of a political elite which regards anything Bolivarian as bad. For that Washington 1%, gross interference in Venezuela's democracy, including its social media, is legitimate.

First of all, liberate your computer

There are two types of computer user. There are wised-up geeks who use open source software, type command lines like it's in their blood, and talk a completely different, totally inaccessible language from the other type of user, who they mainly consider to be losers. This other user may have bought their computer on the recommendation of the guy in PC World, who also tried to sell them support for two years at a special price of 12.99 a month. They then try to run it with the pre-packaged closed-source trash-ware it comes with - the kind of software that wants to control you more than you controlling it. Some of these second type of users have bought a Mac, because, as proven by the fact that it's eye-wateringly expensive, it simply works. Except when they get it home they realize it doesn't.

A friend of mine, despite being a smart and creative person doing a master's in London, was a "loser user". When trying to download a torrent on her Mac through the official search engine Safari, she was getting a .exe file (don't ask me why). When she tried to play videos, she found most of them would not through the proprietary Quicktime player. The solution? To start to liberate her machine - use open source Firefox or closed-source, but more functional, Google Chrome as browser. Bingo, torrent files downloading films in Transmission. Use vlc as media player. Same result, every video file playing. As for Windows users, my reply is simple, but a bit more radical: "I won't fix your broken Windows computer, but I will help you install Ubuntu on it." Nobody I have done this for has ever felt the need to web-surf on Windows again.

My point here is this. Let's close the gap between the smart geeks, who would find my advice crass and obvious, and the general users, who are victims of corporate software and the enclosure of the internet, and who react with joy and relief when they start to liberate themselves just a little bit. Let's begin by helping them to install and use some really basic stuff, and take the opportunity to explain about open source and the open internet.

It's time the National Trust responded on #Fracking

Following up on George Monbiot's article on the National Trust's policy on fracking, it's time they answered two simple questions:

1. Has the National Trust's "presumption against fracking" announced in August changed since Dame Helen Ghosh's statement?

2. If it has changed, have the National Trust's members been informed?

The Road to Freedom with Open Source

Finally I'm completely liberated from Windows and Mac.

For a while now, I've been running a "dual boot" Windows 7/Ubuntu machine. Open programmes on the Linux OS were able to match or better any pricey software made for Bill Gates' system. And Windows insisted on treating me like a child. I mean, how the fuck does Windows 7 have the right to disable my sound card from recording audio streams?  Open source software was as good or better for everything, that is, apart from one solitary activity: video editing. My reliance on the professional features of Adobe Premiere was the final thread tying me to the dark world of monopoly-capitalist control. The open source editors were never quite up to snuff.

But then I discovered Kdenlive.

Powerful, intuitive, with a host of professional features, Kdenlive straight away passes the most fundamental of tests - import and export. Its compression of Full HD mobile phone footage was both high quality and fast. It has its idiosyncracies, but so do Premiere and Final Cut Pro, as any long-suffering user will agree. Editing with cut-aways, the basis of reportage, is integral rather than an awkward and reluctant add-on, as in iMovie and MovieMaker. A very useful feature is the ability to edit Full HD at lower resolution, then export the movie at full spec.

Never having tried it before, I had a tight deadline for a news report about the struggles in Turkey (see below).

As you can hear, I didn't have time yet to master the audio mixing, but such pro features seem to be as easy as on the closed software. And there's a great guide by Mick Fuzz for FLOSS Manuals.

So bye bye Mr Gates. Being infantilised by you and Steve Jobs hasn't been fun, and now I can enjoy my adulthood as part of a massively helpful community. Plus it's free of charge (though they really deserve a donation).

Finally a suggestion, in full "cyber-utopian" vein. Isn't the victory of open tools actually inevitable? (Think Linux, Open Office, etc). And are they not vital in the fight against the most serious threat to our freedom and our creativity, the corporate enclosure of the internet?

visionOntv supports the wikipedia blackout

Today every page of the English-language wikipedia is offline. This is to protest the STOP ONLINE PIRACY ACT (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP ACT (PIPA) currently winding their way through the US legislature. Both these bills would do well-documented damage to the internet and to civil rights, both in the US and the rest of world. Catch a video on this on plugandplay.

Like wikipedia, visionOntv distributes creative commons material, where the copyright is owned by the producers. Like wikipedians, we monitor films we put out for copyright violation. And like wikipedia, we are adamantly opposed to this legislation, and to other laws being passed around the world at the behest of large entertainments corporations. We consider these laws to threaten the restraint not only of our basic trade, but of the freedoms on which we all rely.

Let's walk the walk for independent media

How can we really build a vibrant and quality independent media, rather than just hope for one?

Part 1: By creative commons licensing

All the films we have shot ourselves at #visionontv are distributed creative commons, as is the whole of this website. We use this license:

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

The license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This is vital for the building of free and independent media, but lots of film makers find this idea quite threatening.

So here's an FAQ to allay your fears!

I don't want to lose my ownership of the footage by making it copyleft.

Creative commons isn't copyleft - it's a copyright license. You're just allowing some people to use it under the same terms, crediting you when they do it.

The BBC told me that they didn't have to pay for my footage, because it was creative commons.

The corporate media often tries this line, but they are "commercial", and your filmwork is your copyright. One of my favourites, from a production company working for Channel 4 UK, was "we found it on youtube, so don't have to pay". Sorry, you do. If they use it without asking, send them a bill.

But I'm worried about people cutting my footage into whatever film, outside of my control.....

They have to credit their use, and in my experience I have basically agreed with all the films which have used my shots. Surely it's good to get your stuff out there as much as possible?

What about the artistic integrity of my original film?

Well, that still exists, right? There is actually a creative commons license specifying "no derivative works", but why lock up your footage in one version only? Mozart wrote the Magic Flute for a troupe that had lampooned his previous work. Good enough for him, definitely good enough for me. And because of the "sharealike" clause, every use of your material guarantees more media available for the creative community.

My contributors have only released their work to this one film.....

You should never promise this to your contributors, because it is meaningless in the digital world. Let's imagine a worst possible case for them, where their contribution was ripped to shreds as a "satire" by a member of the Tea Party and published to youtube. Under the Californian law which covers google's video-sharing behemoth this copyright violation is permitted as "fair use", a basic protection of freedom of speech. In reality this almost never happens.

But you said your entire project was creative commons. What stops someone from simply taking your whole site and rebranding it as theirs?

They would have to give credit, but yes, they could do that, which would be absolutely brilliant. It would be weird if they didn't add something (conspiracy theory films? Extreme sports?). In which case, if we liked what they added, which in the case of extreme sports is possible, we could put it in our site as well. Everyone gains, and we make the world a better place.

Creative commons is one of the key ways we can build an open and better media. Part 2 will deal with media rss.

Facebook Follies

With over 50 UK-based activist groups deleted by facebook prior to the Royal Wedding last Friday, we have a great opportunity to reassess our relationship to this social media monolith.

Let's be clear. As activists, we would be pretty dumb and self-defeating not to use facebook, which holds accounts for 1 in 12 of the world's population.

It makes absolutely no sense to be using an unconnected parallel network with a small fraction of the members.

But facebook has a basic structure very unsuitable for campaigns and activism. Let's define it politically and ideologically. It is designed to be a network of individuals who connect to their "friends". The full set of features, for instance the crucial facility to direct-message people, is only given to individuals. The suggestion that activist groups should set up "pages" rather than "profiles" is impractical for this reason. At base, facebook is designed to allow people to group themselves, but only within the walls of fb itself. Pre-existing groups, or groups with a life of their own, violate the terms and conditions and can be closed at any time. This fundamental facebook structure feeds the server / client relationship beloved of corporations (they serve us content, which we consume), rather than the horizontal peer-to-peer network on which the internet is based (we can all be content producers sharing with each other - this latter is the corporate nightmare). To adapt Monty Python's "Life of Brian", facebook's insistence that "you're all individuals" should cause us all to shout "we're not!"

So what we need to be doing when we post to facebook is constantly linking to networks and resources outside of it, to net the fb user fish and take them out to safer, clearer, more sustaining waters.

And more broadly, to quote Aaron Peters, "this requires us to start using and building viable alternatives that are in every sense of the word ‘ours’, meaning that they are commons-based in production, distribution and ownership."

visionOntv is currently working on tools that will enable our site to live within facebook as itself, a plan which knocks holes in the infamous fb walled garden. Watch this space!

There is an open meeting on Thursday May 5 for people to stand up to the latest attacks on our civil liberties, organized on, er, facebook.

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