Silence over months: What I’ve been up to in Sri Lanka and internationally

It’s been a while since I updated this blog – nearly a year in fact. My previous post, in early July 2013 was around a presentation I made on digital archives at an exhibition in Colombo. Coincidentally, I am now preparing for another public talk on digital archives (Capturing the Ephemeral: Archiving our digital present), towards the end of this month, at the American Centre in Colombo.

I’ve not been blogging in part because I’ve been tied up with work and travel at Groundviews and with the ICT4Peace Foundation. This has involved,

  1. 30 Years Ago: A first of its kind multimedia, web-based exploration of the anti-Tamil pogrom in Sri Lanka, in July 1983. The online curation led to a physical exhibition in Colombo at the Park Street Mews, Warehouse D (see photos here), and also some really interesting discussions with people who had lived through and experienced the pogrom, as well as those born long after it, and dealing with the enduring trauma it resulted in. I also did this interview with Vikalpa in Sinhala on why it was important to never forget Black July.
  2. Setting up a website in Sri Lanka to look into issues of web and Internet censorship, funded by Google. Internet Media Action was launched late last year, and is intended to serve as a platform that collects and disseminates information around best practices in keeping information and communications secure, threats to the freedom of expression online, the ways through which ISPs and government undermine privacy and consumer rights, examples of web censorship particularly in Sri Lanka, and other content related to the promotion of an open, free web. My submission at the launch of the network flagged how the Internet and web play an integral role in shaping post-war Sri Lanka’s democratic future. See photos here.
  3. In October 2013, I was a speaker at the inaugural Lasantha Wickrematunge Memorial Lecture, held in Toronto, Canada and organised by Sri Lankans Without Borders (SLWB). My submission was anchored to the post-war mainstream and web based media landscape in Sri Lanka, and how in addition to violent pushback from government and on-going attacks against journalists, the mainstream media itself was to blame for unprofessional, unethical and openly biased journalism. I was joined by Stewart Bell, a Senior Reporter at Canada’s National Post and was especially pleased to share the stage with J.S. Tissainayagam, the award-winning journalist-in-exile.
  4. I was the only Sri Lankan invited by Google to take part in the Google Ideas conference in New York, in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations and Gen Next Foundation, titled Conflict in a Connected World. The Summit aimed to build awareness of how conflict is being transformed by today’s connection technologies. Through a series of panels, presentations, and your participation in one of a number of labs, Google hoped to expose current online threats, contemplate future trends, and bring attention to tools and approaches designed to empower people in the face of conflict or repression. I participated in an off-the-record breakout lab on Activists and Cyber-security, with other leading technology providers and activists from Asia.
  5. In late October and early November, I was in Berlin, co-teaching a training programme on Crisis Information Management with the Center for International Peace Operations, based in Berlin. I focussed on OS-INT (open source intelligence) and new media, including source verification and neo-cartography. I also conducted a session on digital and web security. Photos here and a description of the training programme can be read here.
  6. I conceptualised and moderated a panel discussion on Big Data at the International Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM), held for the first time in Nairobi, Kenya. The video of the panel is now online, and an overview of what was discussion can be read here. Speakers included the distinguished Jon Gosier (D8A Group), Anahi Iayala Iaccuci (Internews) and Emmanuel Letouzé (University of California-Berkeley). I was also live tweeting from the event – see Day 1 and Day 2.
  7. During ICCM 2013, I also gave a presentation on innovation using ICTs, particularly as it related to practices in the humanitarian domain. I also spoke with the GSM Association (GSMA) around an idea that could help victims in a sudden onset disaster send SOS requests out without any direct action on their part.
  8. Though not directly related to my work on ICT4Peace, I launched a book of very short stories, anchored to Sri Lanka, titled ‘Short & Sweet‘. Almost two years in the making, the book was widely acclaimed as a refreshingly different and interesting take on Sri Lanka’s violent histories.
  9. In early March 2014, I led the conceptualisation, design and delivery of a new ENTRi course on the use of new media for crisis management. The training was conducted in collaboration with the renowned Zentrum für Internationale Friedenseinsätze gGmbH / Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF), based in Berlin, and introduced participants to a variety of new media tools and platforms used in the collection, presentation, verification, and dissemination of information. Particularly exciting, personally speaking, was to see Cedric Vidonne from UNHCR, Rina Tsubaki from the European Journalism Centre which recently published the acclaimed Verification Handbook and Eoghan Mac Suibhne, from the world renowned social media verification agency Storyful, also participate in the training as guest lecturers. I penned a report of the programme here, and there’s lots of photos of it here.
  10. Also in March, I delivered a presentation and participated in a Q&A session with the Crisis Management Centre (KMZ) of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs on big data and social media’s role and relevance in crisis management, with a special focus on emergency and crisis response from a governmental perspective.
  11. Again in the same month, I met with the Peace Mission Support and Rapid Response Section and the Methodology, Education and Training Section at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights around the need to embrace new media and ICTs to strengthen High Commissioner’s mandate. It’s really great to see OHCHR embracing ICTs at the HQ and field mission levels to strengthen their mandate, but what I focus on is more the field level secure comms needs and challenges, and not so much the institutional IT investments around database harmonisation and business intelligence platforms. I have been asked however to give input into these investments over the course of this year, so that they are in line with challenges from the field and technology advancements that, particularly in a post-Snowden world, help secure communications better.

Some of the work above merits longer blog posts, which I hope to pen in the days and weeks ahead. I also hope to keep this blog a bit more updated, despite a workload that shows no signs of easing up.

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