Amnesty International, Adblock and Colenso team up to create a platform for Edward Snowden, Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot

  • Not-for-profit
  • March 14, 2016
  • StopPress Team
Amnesty International, Adblock and Colenso team up to create a platform for Edward Snowden, Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot

Colenso BBDO helped Amnesty International celebrate World Day Against Cyber Censorship on 12 March by sharing the messages of cyber censorship victims through Adblock.

However, such a controversial campaign meant it had its own issues to overcome.

StopPress was invited in to the offices last Thursday to discuss the campaign, but the meeting was cancelled last minute, when the parties involved became hesitant about whether or not to run the campaign. One source in the industry mentioned that the campaign went from being a 90 percent certainty to having only a 40 percent chance of running.  

However, the issues were resolved and the campaign went ahead on the scheduled date. 

During a 24-hour period, AdBlock’s 50 million users were served messages from Amnesty International where ads would usually appear. Clicking on the messages led users to further content from people who governments tried to silence including Edward Snowden, Ai Weiwei and Pussy Riot.

Snowden: “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded.”

Weiwei: “Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.”

Pussy Riot: “Authorities don’t just use handcuffs and arrests, but also media attacks.”

In a release, CEO of Adblock Gabriel Cubbage said it partnered with Amnesty International because it believes its users should join the conversation of online privacy.

“[After the campaign], those spaces will be vacant again. But take a moment to consider that in an increasingly information-driven world, when your right to digital privacy is threatened, so is your right to free expression.”

The campaign comes after Amnesty International documented people being arrested for what they said or did online in more than 16 countries last year.

According to the release, it found victims of cyber censorship range from Kazakh political activists convicted for Facebook posts authorities say incite social “discord” to Moroccan journalists and activists on trial for training people to use a citizen journalism smartphone app which the authorities believe may threaten national security by “destabilizing Moroccans’ trust in their institutions”.

Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty said: “Some states are engaged in Orwellian levels of surveillance, particularly targeting the lives and work of the people who defend our human rights – lawyers, journalists and peaceful activists. This continuing development of new methods of repression in reaction to increased connectivity is a major threat to our freedom of expression.”

Of all the countries where people had fallen victim, North Korea was identified as one of the world’s most repressive cyber censors according to a ‘Connection Denied: Restrictions on mobile phones and outside information in North Korea’ report published in early March.

According to the release, it highlights the intensified controls, repression and intimidation of North Koreans since Kim Jung-un came to power in 2011, warning they are subject to the highest levels of censorship imaginable in the world. As the government attempts to isolate citizens and obscure information about the country’s “heinous” human rights situation the majority of people are completely denied access to the World Wide Web.

Messages from some of the country's victims will also be included alongside those from Snowden, Weiwei and Pussy Riot

In an effort to overcome cyber censorship, Amnesty International is not only making Adblock users aware of the situation, it is also calling on internet companies to resist government pressure to weaken privacy and free speech online and instead develop and adopt technologies, such as encryption, that empower rights to the digital world according to Shetty.

“Last month, Apple refused to reduce security on its iPhone to protect the privacy of all mobile phone users. This shows that some companies are starting to think of the big picture.”

“The world was too lax about protecting privacy and free speech on the internet. We now need a radically new approach to protecting online rights to fight back against government restrictions on online freedoms.”

While this certainly is a noble campaign for Adblock to be involved with, it is worth noting that some of the business practices used by ad blocking companies have been compared to corporate extortion.

As explained last year by Sarah Kavanagh, the acting chair of the IAB NZ Mobile Council, in an article on the growth of ad blocking in the local market: "AdBlock acting as a gate-keeper for the industry, while simultaneously making money from big publishers paying to have their ads white-listed is a contradiction in terms, and means that quality control is being determined by a for-profit company, rather than a not-for-profit trade body with industry best practice at it's core.”

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