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Amid #SocialUN, Ban Ki-moon Silent on #FreeZone9Bloggers, Panelists Answer

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 30 -- When the UN held a “Social Media Summit” on January 30, it concluded with a panel about trends, from mobile to analytics to video and Facebook's acquisition of Snapchat.

  But what about the UN defending or at least speaking up for freedom of expression on the Internet?

  Earlier on January 30, Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric why Ban while in Ethiopia for the African Union summit had not raised the terrorism charges brought against the Zone 9 Bloggers. Video here.

   Dujarric said Ban has spoken elsewhere about freedom of expression in Africa, and that the (other) contents of his AU speech were interesting.

   So Inner City Press went to the #SocialUN final panel and asked, does the UN do enough to speak up for freedom in social media? One of the panelists had just finished praising high tech in Qatar. What about arrests for insulting the leader? What about Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain? Video here.

  Panelist Hayes Brown of BuzzFeed, who advised and practices Be a Person on Twitter, including baking and (good) jokes, said it is hard for the UN, since it has member states that pay its bills. He said he agreed about bloggers in Ethiopia but wasn't sure what the UN could do, beyond speaking up.

  Well, as to the Zone 9 Bloggers, the UN has yet to speak up. That would be a start.

  Panelist Liz Borod Wight, who moderator Sree Sreenivasan marveled is paid to do Instagram for the BBC, cites those who tweeted #JeSuisCharlie and said those who have freedom of expression should use it.

  Panelist Adam Glenn from CUNY Journalism School said, hoping not to offend the hosts the UN, that the UN should ensure that all of its staff have training and can tweet.

  Inner City Press and FUNCA note, for example, that a UN staffer in South Sudan abruptly stopped tweeting after she tweeted this: "#breaking Lou Nuer youth are mobilising in big numbers leaving #Akobo town empty heading towards Dengjok #Southsudan."

   As Inner City Press reported at the time, after Mathilde Kaalund-Jørgensen raised this alarm, the tweet and her Twitter account profile both disappeared. So much for Rights Up Front.

  At the end of the panel a UN staffer took the floor to acknowledge that UN staff cannot tweet what they think. But can't Ban Ki-moon say what he thinks? Or doesn't he think it? We'll have more on this.


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