Category Archives : Personal Blog

Tom Grundy’s personal blog

Did China’s State-Run News Agency Purchase Twitter Followers?

The Chinese state news agency Xinhua may have purchased followers on Twitter, according the co-founder of TwitterAudit, a tool designed to detect fake users on the popular social media platform.

An audit conducted last May on the “@XHNews” English Twitter feed suggested that only 11 per cent of the news agency’s followers were real. The tool sampled 5,000 of Xinhua’s 1.56 million Twitter followers, basing the score on how active and established the agency’s followers were.

It is possible that Xinhua purchased followers at some point in an attempt to appear more legitimate. In response to emailed questions, David Caplan, co-founder of TwitterAudit, wrote that “it is easy to purchase followers, just search Google. Lots of sites sell them.”

Reporting With An Agenda

 By Hiram Liu, Claire Li, Tom Grundy & Lukas Messmer

It has been a tough year for press freedom in Hong Kong with Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Al-Jazeera all reporting on the declining state of media freedoms in the city.

There were six attacks on journalists in the past year, advertisers have been withdrawing from media critical of the establishment and HouseNews – a popular liberal news website – was forced to close this summer after its owner was threatened. Late last year, a new television broadcaster, HKTV, was denied a free-to-air licence – mass protests ensued as demonstrators complained that the government’s decision was a political one. The Hong Kong Journalists Association recently stated that it has been “the darkest year in decades” for media freedom as media owners become fearful of harming business interests in the mainland.

Diversity without plurality
Though Hong Kong is home to a wide range of print media titles, there is a deficit in terms of political plurality. There is a surplus of publications on the ‘pro-establishment’ side – some of which are direct mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party. Newspapers such as Wen Wei Po, Sing Tao, Oriental Daily, The Sun and Ta Kung Pao – which are supportive of pro-Beijing viewpoints – are balanced only by the Apple Daily, a tabloid, on the opposing ‘pro-democracy’ end of spectrum. The South China Morning Post and Ming Pao occupy the middle-ground, albeit with an increasing slant towards Beijing.

Top 5 Reads on Hong Kong’s Democratic Development

Hong Kong's democratic development

Favourite reads

Below are my favourite reads this week on the subject of Occupy Central and the NPC’s announcement on Hong Kong universal suffrage.

► New Yorker: “China’s Hong Kong Mistake”
Evan Osnos provides context to Hong Kong’s long fight for democracy, suggesting President Xi has missed an opportunity, choosing a “safer, short-term solution” instead.

► “Occupy Central Series: ‘Anti-Humiliation’ and the CCP’s Need to Defeat”
Trey Menefee argues that the treatment of Hong Kong demonstrates how the Communist Party must create enemies in order to defeat them, thereby showcasing their power.

Favourite Android Apps

A list of my favourite Android apps, kicking off with the only two paid apps I have installed.

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BeyondPod (paid app)For reliability and functionality, this podcast manager beats all of the free alternatives (including bare-bones and buggy Google Listen). Subscribe to your favourite audio feeds via Google Reader and this app wakes up at a set time, connects to your wifi and downloads the latest podcasts from the last 24-hours. Click for a list of my favourite podcasts.

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Swiftkey (paid app)Swiftkey is fast, smart and learns your typing habits and colloquialisms. This replacement keyboard for the stock Android one makes inputting text a lot less painstaking.

Kony 2012: Conspicuous Compassion & The Tradition of the Victim

Reaction to the Kony 2012 campaign

Heroes and villains

Back in the mid-eighties, prompted by this news report, multi-millionaire Bob Geldof organised a global musical event called Live Aid to raise money for the ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa. An accompanying festive single was released entitled “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in aid of Muslim Ethiopia. The world was transfixed and the crusade raised £150m.

However, in 1991, famine scholar Alex de Waal argued that the “humanitarian effort prolonged the war, and with it, human suffering.” Aid was routed via the communist military junta (the Derg), led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, who were also fighting a war in the north – a conflict that part caused the famine. The war was thereby extended by 6 years with Médecins Sans Frontières estimating that the aid may have led to as many deaths as there were lives saved.

During the years that followed, reforms changed how aid was distributed in crisis zones and there were also lasting changes in how such tragedies were covered by the news media. The BBC’s Adam Curtis noted how the complexity and grey areas surrounding the use of aid money was underreported. It was a story that did not conform to a simple, good vs. evil cold war narrative. After the equally complex Rwandan genocide in 1994, modern news effectively stopped analysing political struggles and instead reported only on their often bloody outcomes, without context.

The Invisible Children campaign is equally simplistic and actually mimics Live Aid’s approach and worse errors. It has worked with the Ugandan and Sudanese armies which both have a terrible human rights record of rape and violence. It advocates American military intervention, which will inevitably result in mission creep in a resource-rich region where China is competing. All in all, many fear that the Kony 2012 campaign may also end up doing more harm than good.

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Favourite Chrome Extensions

Listed here are a selection of my favourite Chrome browser extensions.

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Ad-Block – The most popular Chrome extension, with over 2 million users. Blocks ads all over the web.

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Bookmark Sentry – A bookmark scanner that checks for duplicate and bad links.

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Chrome Gestures – Allows you to navigate pages, back and forth, by holding down your right mouse button and drawing a line. Speeds up web browsing very effectively once you’re in the habit.

List of Interesting Wikipedia Articles

 A comprehensive alphabetical collection of almost 500 unusual, weird, wonderful and interesting Wikipedia articles, adapted from a list by Ray Castader on Reddit. Wikipedia also has its own list of usual entries