In April 2007, Czech artist David Hons replaced the human silhouettes in 48 Prague crosswalk signals with figures engaged in decidedly less pedestrian activities. One signal depicted a man urinating; another had a bottle raised to his mouth. A man squatted to defecate; another appeared to be falling down drunk. “I wanted to show people, they don’t have to walk or stand when the system says so,” Hons wrote on his website. A Prague municipal court found Hons guilty of vandalism, fined him $3,750, and ordered that he come up with an additional $5,000 to repair the signals.
On a Monday in late February, I received a Facebook message from a Syrian activist notifying me that a demonstration was due to start in half an hour in a heavily guarded section of Damascus. The occasion was a funeral, and so the protest was likely to be large. “Two of the five martyrs are children, and funeral processions for children are always big,” the message explained. I took a cab to the Kafr Sousa district, an area that is home to many government buildings, and walked for 20 minutes, until I came upon about 75 casually dressed men toting machine guns.
Istanbul, Turkey—Last week, the Turkish journalist Oray Eğin returned to Turkey to attend his father’s funeral. It was the first time he’d been home in months, and when he arrived at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, he was detained. The news immediately spread, making headlines: Yet another Turkish journalist arrested! It turned out, however, that Eğin was being questioned for an entirely different reason—a benign legal matter unrelated to his profession.
When I was 18, I met ESPN announcer Dick Vitale on a flight to Charlottesville, Virginia. The photo I had taken with him that day is still, years later, proudly displayed in my apartment. The reason is simple: I absolutely, unapologetically love Dick Vitale. It’s safe to say that many, maybe even most, sports fans would deem this opinion crazy.
At the end of January, Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, announced a sweeping new privacy right: the “right to be forgotten.” The proposed right would require companies like Facebook and Google to remove information that people post about themselves and later regret—even if that information has already been widely distributed.
When the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) were put on hold late this week, many had cause to celebrate, including Internet companies, free speech advocates, and the millions who signed petitions against the bills.
The Web protests that led to a collapse of support in the House and Senate for two ill-designed antipiracy bills are a cause for celebration. In their current forms, both the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate are heavy-handed and indefensible, attempts to shut down a handful of rogue pirate sites by changing the open structure of the Internet.
Silicon Valley generally leans left of center in its politics, and Facebook, the web’s leading social utility valued at an estimated $85 billion, hasn't often seemed inclined to be an exception. After all, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, has himself gone out of his way to make supportive appearances with President Obama.