Friday, October 23, 2015

Digital Citizenship at MozFest

When we talk about reading, writing, and participating on the Web we often forget that not everyone can participate in the same way, and that not everyone is safe. Even today, many people's access and level of participation is limited not only by their technical abilities, but also restricted by external forces like government surveillance, censorship, harassment or bullying, and exclusionary cultural traditions that bleed into online life.

At Mozilla we believe in a world where everyone is connected, and at MozFest we'll explore real-life experiences of online censorship, what people are doing about it, and how you can teach others to protect themselves. And there's an urgency that surrounds this: every day, governments are enacting laws that make it harder for people to access the cornucopia of information online, and to do so anonymously.

For example, Iran.

Internet censorship in Iran has increased in recent years, leading to the creation of The Supreme Council of Virtual Space. This body is tasked with controlling accessible content by blocking certain sites -- including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook -- and meting out harsh consequences like harassment and imprisonment for online activity. One of our MozFest facilitators will bring his work on network measurement in Iran, and build strategies with participants for sharing this information with the world.

Also, Mexico.

A working session will look at the Mexican government's censorship of Twitter campaigns by unleashing bots to override certain hashtags and users. Specifically, we'll look at the Ayotzinapa tragedy from September 2014 when 43 student teachers were abducted and killed by local authorities, and how the government throttled subsequent protests. We'll learn how to detect bot attacks using Gephi, how to combat attacks and maintain Twitter trends, and start scoping a new "antibot" tool together. [UPDATE]: We are sorry to say this session will not be taking place, as the facilitator is receiving death-threats tied to this work.

Internet Policy Discussions

We'll also look at critical Internet policy issues -- net neutrality, cybersecurity, copyright reform, and more -- and ask participants to help Mozilla better understand the realities in your countries. Dino's Den, a session designed like Dragon's Den (global) or Shark Tank (U.S.), will encourage participants to share what policy issues Mozilla should care about and how. More advocacy focused sessions can take ideas from Dino's Den and design strategies for building communities for digital campaigning. We'll analyze our earlier net neutrality campaign with the Indian community, and see how we can replicate this collaboration by bringing together Advocacy Task Forces in other regions. Come learn how you can participate.

Fighting the Trolls

It's also imperative to discuss personal online security and respect. We've seen how many individuals -- especially women and LGBTQ members -- have been targets of horrendous online assaults in recent years. At MozFest, the Tools for Travelers on the Dark Side of the Internet session -- facilitated by experts who've experienced online harassment -- will look at trolling and cyberbullying, and talk about tools to protect ourselves, tips on how to recognize trolls, and strategies to teach others about being respectful online. To raise awareness about the damaging effects of cyberbullying -- depression, suicide, and other mental health issues -- we'll have Depressed Cakes pop-up stands with gray cupcakes and other gray baked goods. We ask partakers to make a donation for the baked goods, 100% of which will go to MIND, a UK mental health charity.

Join us!

These are just a few highlights from 25 Digital Citizenship sessions at MozFest. Others include Privacy Lab where you can get answers to your privacy questions, Be Torrific! where you'll learn how Tor promotes the freedom expression, to use Tor -- and to run your own relay if you'd like --,  Your Digital Footprint where you'll learn more about online tracking, and more. Come meet like-minded activists, legal experts, and practitioners to protect the open Web as a global public resource.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Sessions focused on the experiences of people marginalized online. We'll look at gender equality, human rights abuses, government surveillance, and other issues affecting online participation.

Building a Crowd: Sessions focused on mobilizing people to protect the open Internet. We'll look at strategies for growing our advocacy community, and tools that help people lend their voice to protest.

Don't Feed the Trolls: Sessions focused on cyberbullying and online harassment. We'll look at ways to protect yourself and your family, and design tools for better protection.

Backdoors + Cryptowars: Sessions focused on using tech tools to protect our freedom of expression. We'll play with features in Firefox 42, discover ways to teach others about Tor, and design privacy tools we want.

What's Your Policy?: Sessions focused on Internet policies worldwide. We'll learn about Mozilla's stance on certain issues, and talk about how to engage the community in a meaningful way.

See you in London!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mozilla Movement Building: Strategies for Global Awareness

As Mozilla Foundation dives into strategic planning for movement building, Mark Surman asks how Mozilla can help the soon-to-be 5 billion online users to understand how the web works and how to wield it. Part of this is involves structuring our services to be more internationally and globally sensitive. 

As a global organization, Mozilla has a number of international collaborators. Some are people we’ve engaged over the years -- like Webmaker mentors, Mozilla Reps, localization contributors -- and others are allies in the digital teaching and advocacy fields -- like our Hive partners and the net neutrality coalition organizations.  To effectively structure our services to be welcoming and accessible to all of our friends, I think we first should think about the world view we want others to share, and how we can do that.  

We’re awesome at: designing teaching materials, organizing events, convening people, and training them. Building off of our face-to-face meetings with community members and allied organizations, we can continue meaningful communication via Vidyo meetings, Discourse, and other channels. 

Given an understanding of what already have (community and software) and do (teach, mobilize), as an organization we could be more effective at helping others if we consider:

Awareness and precision about our language
While we may never understand all the cultural nuances and idiosyncrasies of the communities with which we engage, we need to be more deliberate with our words.

Example 1: In the UK and Europe, “advocacy” means lobbying rather than grassroots engagement or increasing public support. In effect, our Advocacy Team is perceived as a team that works to influence the votes and actions of public officials and legislators -- at best, confusing, at worst, alienating potential partners.

Example 2: Love Bombs -- our way of showing appreciation and recognition to Maker Party contributors. This terminology was problematic in Colombia, with its history of civil war and inner-city bombings. We were asked to supply certificates of participation recognition instead, which was an easy fix.

Sensitivity around activism
In many countries, being an activist and standing up to the government or a powerful corporation is not only uncomfortable, it can be downright dangerous. This extends to social media presence. When we ask our community members to sign a petition or to teach people about the dangers of online surveillance, we should keep in mind that sometimes we are asking them to engage in high-risk activities.

Example 1: We have a potential MozFest participant who is hesitant to join us because he works to measure network security in Iran, and use the data to call out the government on their nefarious surveillance measures. He is worried that a representative of his government could see a photo of him social media or learn about his work, and effectively blacklist him from visiting his home country.

Example 2: An ally of ours in Mexico works to surface online censorship strategies used by the government to target protesters. Last year, 43 student teachers were presumed kidnapped and killed due to their stance against the Mayor’s wife’s corrupt activities. The government had followed Twitter conversations to find the students, and blocked information regarding safe routes out of inner-city protests. Our ally has already been Doxxed and received death-threats for his work, and while he has no desire to stop calling out the government, he is hesitant to host campaign materials on his servers in case those get attacked.

Understand that local Mozilla communities are not divorced from local society
A few of our Mozilla communities have very different societal structures from the ones many of us live in and understand. We expect all Mozilla Communities share our mission to promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web, but we are not asking individuals to treat each other in any certain way -- nor should we.

Example: In recent years, our communities in India and Bangladesh have struggled to collaborate internally partially because of their histories with caste systems. We have a Rep who came from a lower-caste and became a successful Red Hat engineer. He’s struggled to work with his community because he is not their idea of a leader.

A nuanced view of Internet Policy + Advocacy issues
If Internet Policy + Advocacy is going to be a focus of our work, we should keep in mind that not all campaigns or bills are binary, and that sometimes a preceding big educational campaign could be critical to both changing the details of a bill and a successful petition.

Example: In Mexico there is a bill for net neutrality with parameters around protecting net neutrality that are quite good. However, within the bill there are 2 abhorrent sub-laws discussing data retention and collecting geolocation information. To say “we support this bill” means saying we support these two sub-laws as well; to say we don’t means we don’t support the net neutrality clauses.

What we could do/are doing for our communities:
Our communities need teaching kits, media resources, access to repos of open source tools, and localization of these resources. This means the language we use when creating them has to be simple and clear. We also need a much more defined localization strategy: currently, it’s hard to find resources on (unless they’re part of the Hive network), and there’s no language support.

Our communities respond well to face-to-face training and events; case in point, our Webmaker mentors trained under the train-the-trainer model. While these are very resource heavy for us, we should look at them as a long-term investment. If we bring people together in real time, listen to them, and help them better organize and discover roles, we can later depend on these structures from a remote location. Visiting our communities where they are could provide us with a better understanding of their realities.

In line with training, we could look for an effective way to recognize the effort our community members are contributing. In many cultures (e.g. Latin America, India), recognition of participation can go a long way -- certificates, stamps of approval, and titles can legitimize our community members’ involvement in the eyes of their families, friends, and employers.

Targets and measurement
Clear benchmarks that our contributors are working towards help drive participation. If we are up-front with what we are asking of them, and if the opportunities for success and failure are transparent, community members may engage more readily, and help us measure the success of their efforts.

Example: During the Maker Party campaign in the UK in 2013 our partners were unclear of what we were asking of them, and as such the participation was lower than we’d hoped. We were also unclear on what we were measuring -- number of Maker Party events and number of Webmaker (desktop) users -- and some of the feedback we got was about seemingly pushing our product through their networks.

Communication / Feedback loop (software)
Clear channels of communication with our staff, including ways to request resources and training, transparent systems of how we evaluate where to invest and why, and ways for community members to share their thoughts. We already have Discourse, and some very motivated staff members who are in constant contact with community members. For scale and global engagement, however, we need an intake system that eases communication with existing and new community members, and we need it to be systematic rather than personal. If I understand correctly, Regional Coordinators are helping to fill this gap.

Mozilla is unique in its structure and mission. By gaining a more sensitive approach to leveraging our community, we become more effective at helping others stand up. And with a better understanding of different realities, we can help many more millions shape the Internet they want and need.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Identifying Leaders: The 2015 Cohort of Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows and How We Found Them

In October of 2014, Mozilla set out to find six Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellows -- emerging tech leaders who would lend an expert perspective to civil society organizations working in the Internet policy world. Since this was the first year of the program, the team did not anticipate a significant amount of interest at the outset -- but by the time I joined in January 2015, we’d received more than 550 applications from 87 countries. People around the world were eager to work on policy issues that threaten an open Web -- net neutrality, privacy, security, mass surveillance, and more -- and to protect the open Internet.

This talented group found our program through websites dedicated to promoting scholarship and leadership opportunities, from partner organizations who spread the word through social media and tech events, and through Mozilla communities around the world. From the 553 applications, the most highly represented countries were:
  1. USA (109)
  2. Nigeria (62)
  3. India (56)

Regionally, we received applications in the following breakdown:
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 28%
  • North America: 22%
  • Asia: 16%
  • Middle East & North Africa: 15%
  • Europe: 13%
  • South America: 6%

We were enthused by the high interest from Sub-Saharan Africa, and attribute this to our presence on a career website. We were also surprised by the lack of applications from Oceania. This information will help guide our call for applications for next year’s cohort, as we work to have more opportunities in different regions, and attract candidates from everywhere.

The Review Process
The review team -- a group of Mozillians including policy experts and leaders of communities -- “met” impressive people by reading applications from people around the world who were passionate about protecting data and better defining our online rights. They shared concerns about surveillance and privacy; they cared about improving access to an open and free Internet; and they saw education as a vital tool to promote better understanding of these issues in their communities. Over and over, we read about technologists looking for a way to use their skills for social good, and about activists who saw the value in using technology to teach, connect, and empower others.

Word cloud from answers to “What issue areas are you most passionate about?”

Since each host organization had different needs, we had a broad sense of the ideal skills of a Fellow. Though the candidates may not have identified as such, we were looking for Mozillians: leaders who value community participation and work to empower others; activists who view an open and trustworthy Internet as a global public resource; and technologists who shape the Web through innovation.

Successful applications went through five rounds of review:
  1. Interest.
Our open application -- anyone could apply -- encouraged candidates to share their passions. Those who expressed protecting the open Web as a primary interest made the first pass.

  1. Skills.
Since the Fellows will be embedded within host organizations, getting the right skills match was a critical step. The six host organizations -- the ACLU, Amnesty International, APC, Free Press, Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge -- outlined projects they needed help on, and had ideas about the skills and personality fits for which they were looking. We used this as a guide to create a list of 80 candidates.

  1. Fit.
The host organizations looked over the list of 80 candidates and together chose 25 semi-finalists about whom they wanted to learn more. They chose these candidates based on potential for the applicant to contribute to their projects on a technical level, and on shared values that came through in the application.

  1. Interviews (two rounds).
The first interview -- with Mozilla -- was an opportunity for us to hear more about the aspiring candidate’s interest in becoming an Open Web Fellow. The second interview -- with the host organization and Mozilla -- was an opportunity for both the host organization and candidate to learn about each other, and determine their levels of mutual interest.

  1. Matching.
After reviewing notes from both interviews and getting input from the host organizations, Mozilla made the Fellowship offers. This was determined both by matching the needs of the host organizations with the skills the candidates brought, and by looking at the Fellows cohort as a cohesive unit that would work and grow together.

We’re extremely proud of the six Fellows who will lead our inaugural year. They bring a range of experiences that will be valuable not only for their host organizations, but also to each other and to those with whom they interact, including members of the larger Mozilla Advocacy Community. A successful Fellowship will include teaching and empowering this community; building tools and resources to both measure and improve people’s privacy online; and sharing information in an effective way with the general public and policymakers.

Beyond the Fellowship
A critical piece of affecting change is in supporting and growing the community. Our current challenge is to engage with and elevate the hundreds of other talented applicants who were not awarded a Fellowship. Mozilla is collaborating with other organizations to provide more opportunities for technologists to find employment and fellowships within civil society organizations through which they can have a positive impact on the open Internet. Along with these opportunities, important conversations about the state of Internet policy worldwide take place amongst our Mozilla Advocacy Community on Discourse, where community members share knowledge and resources to protect the open Web.

It is our job and privilege to keep this amazing group of people involved and engaged in projects and initiatives worldwide. More importantly, we continue to learn from this community of activists and technologists -- not only about their personal interests, but also about important issues happening in local contexts.

We invite you to join the Mozilla Advocacy Community, and add your voice to the many conversations and strategies that are helping to protect the free and open Web.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Hot on the heels of the President Obama's State of the Union address, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held hearings on "Internet Freedom and Net Neutrality" and "Protecting the Internet and Consumers through Congressional Action," respectively. These hearings were a chance for representatives from online companies and civil society organizations to present their arguments to the Senate and Congress on why or why not protecting net neutrality is important, and should be overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The arguments on both sides are interesting and worth understanding. However, we should look at what net neutrality means in simple terms. Senator Markey from Massachusetts said it best: "Network Neutrality is just a fancy word for non-discrimination." Meaning, if you support net neutrality, you support non-discrimination. You see, net neutrality protects innovation and the small guy. And that's what we should be fighting for: the opportunity for everyone to try; this country was built on the idea of the self-made man -- the idea that people can reinvent themselves. In this day and age the Internet is a big player in that effort, what with crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo bringing in money for everything from open hardware game consoles to potato salad. Limiting access and exposure to innovative ideas can lead to a reduced investment in small ideas, no matter how seemingly ludicrous.

At the hearings, the Vice President of Global Public Policy of seemed to be arguing against net neutrality under the FCC, saying that Congressional power over net neutrality -- where lobbying could come into play -- wouldn't hurt investments for the small guys. They're big and successful, so of course they don't want the competition that could bring.  Don't get me wrong -- I use Amazon and the services it provides save me loads of time and money; I love it for what it is, but if something better were to come along, or if/when times change and someone else comes up with an adequate response, I want that business to have the opportunity to be successful. That being said, the FCC does need to review its latest proposal and make sure their strategies for oversight are viable; there's still work to be done.

But that's the Web I want: a non-hypocritical playing field where everyone can try; one that promotes innovation -- no matter how small the player. In talking about free Community College, Obama said, "Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you’ve got to earn it — you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time." And I think this applies largely to the open Web as well: this is your chance, and you've got to try. But at least the opportunity is there.