Lowy Institute

The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Chinese authorities allegedly shut down the internet in Linshui after mass demonstrations demanding a high-speed rail line through the county turned violent. Read about how the protests — from censorship to anti-communist party hacking — are playing out online.
  • Tech startups in Pakistan want to disrupt the country's inefficient and dangerously unregulated labour market.
  • The most important market for Chinese smartphone makers may actually be India.
  • This podcast, on Japan's unique Twitter culture, looks at why it is common for Japanese users to have multiple accounts and maintain a different identity on each.
  • Internet company Baidu has built a Beijing-based artificial-intelligence supercomputer that allegedly has Google beat on image recognition. (H/t @niubi).
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked officials to befriend and recruit non-Communist Party intellectuals from new media organisations and to encourage them to make contributions to 'purifying cyberspace'. (H/t @fryan.)
  • Vietnamese mobile messenger app Zalo now has 30 million users, making it the only Southeast Asian-founded chat app that has conquered its home market.
  • The media outlet for China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has published a series of feisty articles on defending cyber sovereignty and battling for online terrain. English translations here and here.
  • While hosing down alarmist interpretations of the above articles, the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project steers readers towards the revelation that an elusive 'All-Military Internet Security and Information Expert Consultation Commission' had its first sitting in Beijing.
  • A new report highlights fears Cambodia's new cyber laws will be used to further curb online free speech.
  • Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement has spawned a unique brand of digital protest art.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook was in China last week


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Digital Disruption

The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • The Thomas Crampton blog has outlined key changes in the Chinese social media space including the versatility and continued rise of WeChat, the growing popularity of mobile video sharing and social travel platforms and how LinkedIn has successfully crossed into China.
  • Neighbourhood Facebook groups in Singapore – initially set-up to deal with local construction issues – are empowering residents and changing the face of municipal politics.
  • Savvy cyber attackers targeting Taiwanese Government officials have leveraged the popularity of Japanese mobile messaging app LINE (550 million total worldwide users; 18 million in Taiwan). Intended targets received a spear-phishing email with malware embedded in an attached ZIP file. Coincidentally, the new mayor of Taipei recently admitted he uses LINE to communicate with executive officials via a 'private' chat room.
  • An Indonesian startup is using high-end tech solutions, including big data, drones and weather sensors, to identify digital farming products and increase the productivity of Indonesia's agriculture sector (which provides employment to about 41% of the country's workforce).
  • Do you live in China and need help getting your life in order? A new mobile app - WeChat Secretary - is here to help. The app gives users a virtual personal assistant who can help with any task, not matter how mundane, such as finding a repair person or setting up a Taobao account (China's Ebay equivalent) h/t Asia Digital Life Project.
  • A new report by Ericsson on mobile internet users in India has found one in three people are using smartphones in urban India, and of these, 36% of these are accessing financial service on their smartphones each week.
  • The Chinese Meteorological Administration has banned unofficial weather reports, allegedly after false forecasts went viral on social media. Violators of the regulation, which came into effect 1 May, can be fined up to AUD$10,000 for distributing false or manipulated weather information that may 'create a negative impact on society'.
  • Pakistan's parliament is drafting a new cyber crimes bill (follow online discussion about it via #PECB15) and there are concerns the bill's broad scope will be used to justify online censorship and impact the country's booming tech industry. A video made by 19-year old entrepreneur Asad Malik summaries some of the key issues of those opposing the bill

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Digital Disruption
  • Those monitoring the earthquake response will already be well acquainted with the #NepalEarthquake hashtag, but they should also subscribe to this Twitter list.
  • How Facebook (via Safety Check) and Google (via Person Finder) helped connect people immediately following the 25 April earthquake.
  • Relief efforts have been better targeted thanks to volunteer crisis mappers  (about 2500 of them) who were activated immediately following the earthquake. For more on how crisis mapping works read this
  • You can join the mapping effort via Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (HOT) or Tomnod. Never mapped before? MapGive, an initiative of the US State Department's Humanitarian Information Unit, provides a step-by-step guide.
  • A group known as the Standby Taskforce coordinated a community of 'MicroMappers' to aggregate, curate and identify tweets and images on damage assessments.
  • Kathmandu Living Labs has created a central repository for geo-located data collected via SMS, social media and email. Powered by Ushahidi, and used by the Nepalese army, the site has recorded over 1000 reports detailing urgent needs. NGO NepalMonitor.org is also using Ushahidi to map and record human rights and security incidents. 
  • The Humanitarian Data Exchange has assembled a list of open-source data sets, including on health infrastructure and landslide locations. Organisations can download this data and/or share their data through the online exchange
  • Crowdfunding has long been popular to source money following disasters, however the magnitude of mini crowdfunding campaigns for Nepal is unprecedented. Why? And is this the best way to give?
  • New experimental web platform Verily is being used to rapidly crowdsource information verification, such as images and aid delivery, using 'digital detectives' (for more on Verily see this video).
  • Despite signs of coordination between humanitarian UAV operators, the Nepalese Government has cracked down on the use of drones, suspecting sensitive information has been leaked about the country’s heritage sites. UAV operators (included those hired by the media) must now gain permission from the country's Civil Aviation Authority. The internet is awash with drone footage, including the below, profiling the immense impact of the earthquake: 

 

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Digital Disruption

The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • China's Cyberspace Administration has announced more explicit rules on internet censorship, with the new directive focused on 'pornographic material, false information or rumours, and maintaining incomplete internet security systems'.
  • Confused by China's ever-changing approach to online censorship? (when did Japanese cartoons become a problem?) This chart explains it all.
  • Crackdowns on freedom of speech by South Korea's government has fueled demand for encrypted online communications with 'secret chat' features now standard for messaging apps.
  • Vietnamese netizens are getting bolder online, despite tough laws.
  • Despite the arrest and continued interrogation of China's most prominent online feminists and widespread censorship, Chinese women are continuing to protest against sexism using the internet.
  • Last month, an editorial in one of Papua New Guinea's largest newspapers, The National, called on the government to push through greater controls on social media use. This week, editor of rival newspaper the Post Courier, Alexander Rheeney, commented on the state of free speech in the country.
  • Freedom House research has found that, as China's internet restrictions increase, some security personnel and censors have grown more sympathetic to victims of political and religious persecution.
  • As already raised on The Interpreter here, North Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar and China have been ranked in the top ten media censors largely because of strict internet control and censorship measures.
  • Singer Katy Perry has stirred Cross-Strait tensions by draping herself in a Taiwanese flag at a concert in Taipei this week while both she and backup dancers were wearing sunflower-themed costumes (why is that symbolic?). Chinese censors were quick to delete all evidence of Perry's outfit on Chinese social media and international media is now speculating whether Perry will face a China ban:

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Digital Disruption

Australia's approach to digital diplomacy is second-rate and entirely inadequate for a nation that sees itself as 'a top 20 country'. Despite an expanded social media presence, Australia continues to lag far behind other countries – large and small – that are investing serious resources into building up their digital diplomacy capabilities.

The Australian Government is failing to leverage the internet and other information and communication technology (ICT) tools to carry out foreign policy objectives; rather, it has confined itself to using these tools to communicate the fact that diplomatic activities are occurring. This approach is limiting Australia's ability to project global influence.

Our diplomats have developed an online passivity that is disconnected from the reality of Australian diplomacy. Given that Australia is located in the most digitally dynamic region of the world (45% of the world's internet users live in Asia), and that our ability to reach and influence the populations that live in our region has diminished following the Government's divestment in international broadcasting; Australia can no longer afford to remain ineffectual in this area.

Here are six policy recommendations for how the Australian Government can build a digital diplomacy capability:

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1. Develop a strategy

A digital diplomacy strategy can guide the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) from online communications to using the internet for influence. The Department should learn from the experience of other countries, particularly those that have already fleshed out and are now implementing a strategy. A 1.5 track dialogue would be a good way to bring together experts with officials to share experiences and map out a draft approach. Crowdsourcing public opinion is an additional and inexpensive way to feed through proposals; DFAT could use its growing crop of social media networks to do this. 

2. Create a digital diplomacy unit and recruit experts

The Government should create a dedicated digital diplomacy unit and recruit experts to staff it. Bureaucracies are generally averse to hiring outside the public service but few countries have successfully developed these capabilities without external help. Other countries have tended to poach from their domestic tech industries, civil society organisations and from abroad to build such teams.

This unit should take advantage of the latest innovations in ICT to creatively contribute to solving foreign policy problems. It will need to be given the freedom and flexibility to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and respond to international developments without having to go through rigid clearance processes. This new unit should be independent of DFAT communications and public diplomacy. While it will need to work with such teams, attaching the unit onto well-developed bureaucratic functions runs the risk that the end result will evolve into nothing more than an extension of those functions.

3. Empower officials

Ambassadors and other officials using social media need to be unleashed to talk, explain and advocate for official policy positions. They need to be given the freedom to engage with the public online and respond to international developments. Diplomats are not limited to reading aloud official releases when they represent Australia at public events, so why is a re-tweeted media release as exciting as it gets when they're online? If it is talked about publicly, it should be able to be tweeted publicly. Providing officials with training and access to a dedicated digital diplomacy unit will help alleviate risk. 

4. A social media review 

DFAT has built a social media presence that mirrors its physical presence. Such a set-up means each post must take responsibility for its patch, leading to a messy and uneven presence, good in some countries but neglected in others.

In China, for example, there is an opportunity to use the country's favoured online platforms to influence the largest single purchaser of Australian products and our top holiday spenders. But DFAT is currently only present on a small number of Chinese social media channels and is not keeping pace with how China's 600 million online users are using the internet. A review of social media accounts could address this, and form part of the overarching strategy.

5. Start a blog

Blogs have long been a standard feature for foreign affairs and aid departments around the world (the UK has 85). Blogs provide governments with a forum to informally and intellectually discuss issues and ideas in a format that is accessible to the public. DFAT has no online mechanism to engage in public policy discussion and currently limits itself to 'announcing' information via media releases and a news feature. A blog that hosts individually authored posts would provide a one-stop shop for the Government to informally contextualise and discuss its position on various issues. It would also provide a space to better articulate, to the public and other stakeholders, what DFAT does and what modern Australia diplomacy looks like. Presently, the Australian media largely controls the messaging on foreign policy; a blog could help shift that.

6. Revive the online identity of Australian aid

Digital diplomacy must be used to enhance all foreign policy functions, but there is currently an imbalance: the flagship of Australian foreign policy, its aid program, is being neglected.

When AusAID's merger into DFAT kicked off in 2013, almost all of the aid program's online channels were stopped or deleted — an odd decision given AusAID and Australian aid are not the same thing. Those who want timely updates about Australian aid must now comb through the website to see if any webpages have been updated, and search through generic DFAT and embassy feeds. It's a messy process that makes it almost impossible for Australians to stay updated on developments with our own aid program. It is obvious that this diminished digital identity has hampered DFAT's ability to engage with the aid program's stakeholders, many of whom unwittingly continue to use the AusAID Twitter handle (even some other Australian Government departments do this!) despite its closure.

When Canada went through a similar integration in 2013 it retained almost all of its communication channels, simply changing the names of the accounts from CIDA to 'Canada International Development' (including on Facebook and Twitter). The Australian Government should revive and re-badge the aid program's idle online accounts. These accounts are a valuable commodity, providing Government with an opportunity to leverage off influential aid-related online networks and a further avenue to reach the Australian public via an area of foreign policy that is more relatable than is other parts of DFAT's core business.

Australia's digital diplomacy capabilities have the potential to provide government with an inexpensive and powerful mechanism to reach global audiences. It can convey vital messages, develop networks (at times more useful than physical networks), monitor and respond to breaking events, correct misinformation (vital when free press is compromised), coordinate and harness goodwill, participate in public discourse and promote Australian soft power.

But none of this will happen unless the Government commits to catching up to the rest of the world. In the meantime, we remain behind and our failure to exploit the internet is hampering Australia's ability to shape global events.

Photo courtesy of @JulieBishopMP

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • New Chinese mobile app 'MyIdol' is breaking the internet. The app, which is still only available in Chinese, allows users to turn themselves (or anybody else) into an animated avatar. Try it here.
  • China has turned to social media to help enforce the country's new smoking rules (taking effect 1 June) by asking residents to report violators via uploaded images or videos.
  • South Korea has allegedly uncovered the hacking codes North Korea has used against them in cyber attacks aimed at the country's financial sector and nuclear operators.
  • Internet.org has launched in Indonesia. The Facebook initiative aims to speed up internet adoption rates in some developing countries by providing free access to select basic web applications (a weather app, Wikipedia, Facebook etc).
  • Internet.org is under fire in India (and Latin America) for giving users a limited version of the internet. Mark Zuckerberg has responded.
  • Some Chinese companies are crossing the Straits and helping to revive Taiwan's tech industry.
  • At a Social Media Summit, Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called on the government to censor some websites 'to block out all this filth that comes to us through the Internet' (but not including his own very popular blog).
  • Will robots kill the Asian Century?
  • Myanmar is planning to establish a new information and communication technology (ICT) zone that it hopes will boost the country's tech sector. (Thanks Elliott.)
  • Can the internet be saved without harming democracy?  
  • The Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT) project has launched an open-source live news dashboard. The dashboard, which maps worldwide news activity and summarises the world's top 60 trending narratives, is updated every 15minutes, and its news collections includes mass (machine) translation of 65 languages. Find out what news is trending in Asia (and elsewhere) here.
  • Congress Party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, often described as one of India's most internet unsavvy politicians, is now advocating for net neutrality. What is net neutrality?

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world

  • There is enormous buzz around a new Citizen Lab report that claims China has created a powerful cyber weapon known as the Great Cannon. This weapon allows the government to intercept foreign web traffic as it flows to Chinese websites, inject malicious code and redirect the traffic towards any given target. China has responded by censoring discussion of the report.
  • Given the development of the Great Cannon, it's worth noting the recent launch of a US Government-funded security start-up which detects cyber attacks by trends in power consumption activity (rather than malware detection).
  • Indonesia's counter-terrorism agency is keeping a closer eye on its cyberspace - 20 websites have been blocked this month - amid growing concerns about the spread of online radical content (via Asia Digital Life Project).
  • Papua New Guinea's 'Phones Against Corruption' initiative, which allows staff from the Department of Finance to report suspicious behaviour via anonymous texts, has uncovered 250 cases of potential corruption.
  • The Philippines has an ambitious plan to connect 900 cities across the country with free wi-fi by July. How will they do it?
  • Apparently, the Chinese internet doesn't like Hillary Clinton.
  • Sam Roggeveen analyses how blogging and social media impacts Australia's international policy debate in this journal article.
  • In light of Cyclone Pam, here's a piece examining tech solutions in natural disaster response.
  • Wobe, a new app in Indonesia, has been developed to help disadvantaged women in South East Asia by allowing them to start their own micro-businesses (selling phone credit, electricity, bus tickets) via their mobile phone.
  • The Communist Youth League of China is planning an internet volunteer campaign involving 10.5 million youth, 4 million of whom will be required to exemplify 'positive energy' in internet usage, post comments that support Party ideology and report 'unhealthy' online information.
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Digital Disruption

After a decade of swimming against the tide, the Australian Government is slowly engaging in the world of digital diplomacy.

The term 'DFAT the Dinosaur' no longer applies, a label slapped onto our foreign affairs department in 2010 after a series of public refusals to incorporate the internet into its engagements with the world. This strategy, or lack thereof, was a bizarre own goal.

Rather alarmingly, the Government's extended inertia in this area exposed a lack of understanding of the evolving ways in which states, organisations and individuals use information and communication technology (ICT) tools to engage, coordinate and influence one another in an increasingly crowded environment of international actors.

Today, digital diplomacy is a foreign policy essential. We live in a world where state and non-state entities all compete for influence and power in the same online space. That space now hosts more than 3 billion people, most of whom only access the internet through their mobile phone. When used properly, digital diplomacy is a persuasive and timely supplement to traditional diplomacy that can help a country advance its foreign policy goals, extend international reach, and influence people who will never set foot in any of the world's embassies.

The good news is that DFAT's online reach has grown significantly over the past two years.

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Most major embassies now have a Facebook account and a growing number of ambassadors have an active Twitter presence. Some social media accounts are doing better than others (Ireland needs a little help; Pakistan and Indonesia do not). A number of embassies have piloted small exercises. For example, Australia's High Commission in PNG attempted live topical Q&A sessions. Hashtags like #NewColomboPlan and #innovationXchange are used by the generic @dfat Twitter account to promote initiatives and link stakeholders. Recently, a blog was launched authored by Australia's Ambassador in Germany (in German). Leveraging off the success of 'The Embassy' TV show, online forums were hosted on the Smartraveller Facebook page (there is also a Smartraveller mobile app). DFAT's new consular strategy briefly mentions an intention to improve and expand social media use. 

Social media is a valuable tool the Government should continue to use and expand on to enhance its international footprint. But digital diplomacy is far more than diplomats and embassies communicating via social media. 

The Brits define digital diplomacy as 'solving foreign policy problems using the Internet'. The Americans have coined the term '21st Century Statecraft,' of which their well-resourced decade old e-diplomacy team forms but one part. No matter which definition you subscribe to, a social media presence is only a part of an evolving picture. Ben Scott, Innovation Advisor to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, outlines three components of digital diplomacy:

  1. Public diplomacy, including the use of online platforms.
  2. Building expertise in technology policy and understanding the way the internet impacts international developments such as political movements (ie. Hong Kong's Umbrella movement).
  3. Impact on development policy and how ICT can be used more effectively to promote economic growth around the world.

With these definitions in mind, a comparison of Australia's efforts with those of our counterparts proves rather humiliating and should serve as a rude awakening for the Australian Government.

The US leads from the front, as it should given the resources at its disposal. Fergus Hanson's analysis of the US State Department's digital diplomacy remains unrivalled, and State's DipNote blog provides regular updates on new initiatives, including how the US uses open data and collaborative mapping to enhance diplomacy. The US, along with a number of other countries, is also building online networks to counter the digital momentum of ISIS. 

The UK isn't far behind, having published a digital strategy in 2012 after widespread consultation, which led to the launch of a new Digital Transformation Unit within the Foreign Office (case studies of successes can be found here). Its empowered staff – through social media and blogging – actually play a part in the public policy discourse, unlike our own. 

France decided in 2008 that its soft power relied on digital technologies, while Polish and Japanese foreign affairs departments employ an extensive collection of social media networks, quadruple the size of our own. Germany turned to ICT platforms to crowd-source opinion and new ideas from the public that fed into its 2014 foreign policy review. India continues to invest heavily in building up its online reach despite resource constraints. Israel has matched its aggressive traditional diplomacy with one of the most active digital diplomacy units in the world, which has worked hard to influence the outcomes of US-Iran nuclear talks. 

Following former Canadian Foreign Minister Baird's speech to Silicon Valley last year, his department's online presence has exploded. Canada is now experimenting with how to best advance its interests online, including by funding university projects that use ICT to circumvent Iranian Government censorship. Sweden's digital diplomacy flourished under former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a long-time master of Twitter, who can now be found helping Canada. Small countries are also making significant progress: Romania hosts regular forums to discuss how to enhance its efforts and Kosovo has a (apparently lauded) digital diplomacy strategy.

So what of Australia? DFAT's social media accounts efficiently push out and amplify information, the majority of which is already publicly available via other channels. But these accounts are almost entirely devoid of policy detail and you'll be hard pressed to find the views or positions of the Australian Government beyond a re-tweeted media release.

Instead, the accounts are dominated by Ambassador photo-ops, visa information, trade facts and cute snippets about Australia (koalas, beaches, sport etc). Photos of officials shaking hands are uploaded, an article on why to study/holiday in Australia is posted, a link to an aid announcement is shared and the odd Ambassador tweets their schedule. Engagement with others is generally limited to tweets praising the 'good' and 'useful' meetings they've just had.

There is value in this. But because DFAT communicates only this, its social media accounts are performing more of a marketing function rather than a diplomacy function. But most importantly, communicating is not the same as influencing. This is where Australia's attempts at digital diplomacy come completely unstuck.

Along with many readers of this site, I've sat through dozens of events where Australian officials have delivered muscular public speeches advocating the Government's views on any number of contemporary issues, be it relations with China, resetting our relationship with PNG or the peace process in the Philippines. But while these official views are public, they are not reflected or advocated for online. Why does the Government suppress its own policy positions online while other countries leverage the internet to project their viewpoints and jockey for influence. It is perplexing, and even stranger given Australia has a foreign minister who so easily conveys her personality online and who has such a personal approach to her use of the internet.

It's time the Australian Government invested in digital diplomacy capabilities that extend far beyond regurgitating traditional media. There are risks, as there are when any organisation uses the internet. But the biggest risk of all is not engaging in this space, because the world will soon be home to four, five, then six billion internet users. Until digital diplomacy is taken seriously as a tool of foreign policy, the Australian Government is not equipped to reach them.

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Twitter's Jakarta office is now open, and the first thing the microblogging site wants to do is help Indonesia better respond to natural disasters.
  • A massive denial-of-service attack on coding website Github that involved directing huge amounts of traffic from overseas users of Chinese search giant Baidu, has been tied to the Chinese Government. The cyber attack allegedly targeted two pages: a mirror site of the New York Times and the anti-censorship site GreatFire.org.
  • Fiji's 'coup babies' (those who voted for the first time in 2014) are using social media to engage with the country's new parliament.
  • Taiwan is seeking stronger cyber security ties with the US to counter 'you-know-who'.
  • Mobile messaging applications are transforming into so much more than just chat apps.
  • Two posts from ANU's New Mandala blog on how growing social media use is impacting politics in Thailand and Vietnam.
  • The story of how a BuzzFeed reporter followed his stolen iPhone across the world, become a celebrity in China (thanks to Weibo) and finding a friend for life:

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • India's Supreme Court has struck down a law that made it illegal to spread 'offensive messages' on electronic devices. The presiding judge said the law, which had resulted in arrests over Facebook posts, had a 'chilling' effect on free speech.
  • University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has found that hundreds of members of the Tibetan community are being targeted by email-based malware attacks that are using the anniversary of the 10 March 1959 Tibetan Uprising as a disguise to infect individuals and organisations.
  • A fantastic report on Vietnam's social media landscape highlights internet censorship and outlines how social media is challenging the country's state-controlled broadcast and print media.
  • Indonesian neuroscientists have a developed a mobile app to help reduce the risk of accidents by using a brainwave sensor device to evaluate driver performance. The app pulls together vehicle data and real-time environmental data (traffic, weather), which is then meshed with information collected from the driver (stress levels, alertness) to make a call on whether you should drive.
  • Japan is reaping the benefits of an Asian-driven demand for robots (Taiwanese company Foxconn uses 20 million robots in its production of the iPhone 6 alone). India wants in, and is eyeing off opportunities for its tech industry (particularly programmers) to better collaborate with Japanese manufacturers.
  • And while Japan regularly capitalises on its robotics expertise via well rehearsed 'robot diplomacy', it's unlikely Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will be buying a personal robot anytime soon:

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  • How Indonesian President Jokowi intends to make fast and accessible broadband internet his legacy.
  • Vanuatu's popular Facebook groups are busy as residents share information and coordinate responses to Cyclone Pam. At the request of the Red Cross, the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team is using crowdsourcing to map Vanuatu's pre and post disaster imagery. A Ushahidi map has also been created to log and fulfill ICT equipment needs.
  • Chinese micro blogging site Weibo is censoring discussion about five women's rights activists who remain confined without charge after they were detained on International Women's Day (8 March) for planning a small protest against sexual harassment.
  • This article claims Bangladesh may have the technology and expertise to deal with cyber terrorism but it lacks political will, leadership and coordination, which is hampering law enforcement efforts to tackle the growing problem.
  • The cyber security risks faced by Taiwan — allegedly the most hacked place on earth — as it adapts to the 'Internet of Everything'. (And what is the Internet of Everything?)
  • The Singapore Navy is crowdsourcing names for eight new warships. The PR campaign-style competition, which runs until 29 March, is looking for 'strong' names; there are cash prizes for the winners.

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • Myanmar’s mobile subscriptions grew 87% last year (until September), pushing penetration to 20% of the population. This blog post discusses what such rapid mobile adoption may mean for the country and this article outlines what companies are doing to increase digital literacy and mobile access for women.
  • Even though it is banned in China, Twitter is opening an office in Hong Kong to help Chinese companies market their products overseas. Many Chinese brands are turning to Western social media channels to build their global image, including the state-owned Xinhua news agency which has re-branded itself ‘New China’ across Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
  • I look at internet citizenry in Asia in this Interpreter post and, specifically, why it is important to think about the powerful online reactions to recent viral documentaries in China (Under the Dome) and India (India’s Daughter).
  • This short report from the ANU’s Bell School analyses Papua New Guinea’s mobile and ICT market. With a focus on the dominance of Irish telecommunications company Digicel, the author calls for more effective regulation to safeguard against potential market abuse.
  • How USBs and camera memory cards are being used to smuggle data into North Korea, including South Korean movies, American TV series (Scandal is the current favourite) and Wikipedia-like information summaries.
  • A great editorial from the New York Times on what tech companies are doing to make the internet available to more people (less than half the world’s population are online) but why bridging the digital divide is not progressing fast enough (thanks Brendan). 
  • The attempts of China’s internet giants to depict International Woman’s Day with online doodles (as Google did) resulted in an online backlash in China for their sexist nature. This one was from Chinese search engine Baidu:

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Conflict has broken out across Asia. Militaries aren't involved and there are unlikely to be human casualties, but this conflict is already re-shaping our most important partners in Asia.

Last week, under very different circumstances, two documentaries went viral online and now the Chinese and Indian Governments are scrambling to contain public opinion and save face by mopping up the final traces of these films on the Internet.

Under the Dome, a Chinese TED-talk style documentary self-financed and produced by well-known investigative journalist Chai Jing, was launched 28 February via the website of the state-owned People's Daily. The fact that the documentary began its online life at the People's Daily implies some level of government buy-in. And on 1 March the Minister for Environmental Protection, Chen Jining, added to this perception when he said that Chai was to be admired for encouraging citizens to be concerned about the environment.

300 million-plus views later, however, we now know that this support was conditional.

About 72 hours after its online release the censors commenced 'cease and desist' efforts. Empowered by instructions from the News Bureau of the Central Propaganda Department (which explained in frank terms that Under the Dome had become too distracting in the lead up to China's annual Communist Party meetings), social media discussions were censored, website comment threads were disabled, news organisations stopped reporting the story and the documentary itself disappeared from China's major video sharing sites.

In contrast, India's Daughter, a documentary about the brutal 2012 gang rape and murder of medical student Jyoti Singh in New Delhi, has travelled the reverse path to censorship.

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A UK-India co-production, the BBC documentary was set to be shown on Indian TV station NDTV on 8 March, International Women's Day, but was banned before its release after police secured a last-minute court injunction. India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has couched the censorship in terms of women's public safety, arguing that excerpts of an interview with one of the convicted rapists 'appear to encourage and incite violence against women'. In protest, NDTV halted programming during the one-hour planned screening slot.

Globally, the documentary was screened in select countries and remained accessible across video-sharing sites including YouTube and Vimeo for most of last week. But on 9 March it largely disappeared from the internet when Google agreed to comply with the Indian Government's requests to block access to the film, and later the BBC's own requests, which cited copyright infringement.

In banning India's Daughter, the Indian Government set alight a monstrous debate that has grown to include topics ranging from gender inequality and education to poverty. Spoof videos about rape have gone viral, blog posts and social media discussions are multiplying and growing into a national debate. India's TV stations have taken up the topic of the film's ban with vigour, and emotional interviews with Jyoti's parents have been aired. India's politicians responded immediately to the public outcry and are falling over one another to argue for or against India's Daughter

In a rare display of symbiosis, a number of journalists in India have also leveraged the popularity of Under the Dome to re-ignite debate about India's poor air pollution. And without a hint of irony, China's Global Times published an opinion piece on the banning of India's Daughter, analysing India's 'imbalanced and inadequate social development' and encouraging its neighbour 'to face up its domestic headaches.'

This week-long cyber tug of war won't end soon for China or India because the internet can't actually be censored in the way some states would want.

To start with, China's and India's sizeable diasporas, both loosely estimated at approximately 40 million, are scattered across the world and are largely free to watch, discuss and share whatever content they can get their hands on. As are both countries' rapidly growing numbers of outbound tourists. 

While China has worked hard this year to fortify and expand its Great Firewall, netizens remain one step ahead of censors because they lead the discussion that the state then scrambles to suppress. China's internet users exist within a constantly shifting and shrinking framework set by the state, but the Chinese Government can't always predict where the next flare-up will occur, giving netizens some room to manoeuvre. The Chinese Government also knows it must ensure that using the internet remains attractive to its citizens, and that includes leaving space for people to congregate and discuss issues online.

If China's version of the internet starts losing mass appeal, then 620 million frustrated people will be looking for other ways to channel their opinion. And this is the Communist Party's worst nightmare.

Under the Dome's viral popularity has already had an impact. The price of solar stocks surged 32%, with analysts directly attributing the jump to Jing's documentary. Small anti-smog protests have broken out in Shaanxi province. A 24-hour environmental complaints hotline that Jing spruiks in her documentary has reported a 610% surge in calls.

On 6 March – a week after the film's release – President Xi Jinping promised that polluters would be punished, no exceptions, 'with an iron hand.'

Historically, politics has been the domain of the elite, with only a chosen few given access to decision-making. Information flows were also predominantly unidirectional and trapped within rigid hierarchies. But the internet has decimated the geographical and economic nature of how power is distributed and decisions were made. Under the Dome and India's Daughter are both incredibly compelling documentaries, but the online reaction they have stimulated is even more powerful. And this is a timely reminder for Australia that the internet's ability to provide the world's 3 billion web users with unprecedented access to information is a global game changer.

Australia should be seeking to understand and influence the internet's ability to unite and mobilise populations, because this internet citizenry is accelerating political and social change in Asia.

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies and the largest concentration of mobile and social media users. An escalation in online activism, changing cyber dynamics, developments in digital diplomacy and the exploitation of big data are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • A new report investigating the gender disparities in mobile phone ownership in developing countries has found the largest gaps are in Southeast Asia, where women are 38% less likely to own a mobile phone than men.
  • President Obama has criticised China's plans for new restrictions on US tech companies, urging Beijing to change the policy if it wants to do business (h/t @BrendanTN_). China has dismissed the criticism and called for the US to 'treat this in a calm, objective and correct manner'.
  • The US is also putting up a fight in Indonesia against new rules requiring smartphone and tablet companies to produce 40% of their content locally from 1 January 2017. The US believes the 'made in Indonesia' rule will hamper the efforts of its tech companies, such as Apple, to capitalise on Indonesia's growing smartphone market.
  • Few 'mobile for development' programs reach Cambodia's poorest because they are unavailable in Khmer and aren't accessible to illiterate users. Local NGOs and the Government are getting around this with a free open-source platform that uses voice rather than text.
  • This blog post questions the hype around the FireChat mobile messenger app. Operable without phone reception or an internet connection, FireChat generated headlines last year during Hong Kong's 'Umbrella Revolution' (and before that during Taiwan's 'Sunflower Movement').
  • Why did a documentary about China's air pollution go viral in China this week? 'Under the Dome', self-financed by a former state TV journalist, has generated tens of thousands of comments on WeChat and been viewed more than 200 million times. It is now being censored but it is available here with English subtitles:

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