WEASA 2020 pre-readings


Hey everybody,

We’ve compiled a series of texts that might serve as a great introduction to WEASA 2020. Most of those readings are optional. A couple of them are compulsory, since we might be discussing them in the lectures and workshops. We’ve clearly marked them in bold.

In addition to those readings, some of our WEASA speakers might also assign a small exercise – which might include reading, video, audio content, or anything else – for you to look at before the workshop. I’ll send those through by email in due time.

Have a great time reading!


A general introduction

There’s a book called Twitter and Tear Gas by a Turkish-born sociologist named Zeynep Tufekci. Zeynep has a wonderful Twitter feed (she usually focuses on digital affairs but now mostly writes about covid) and her book looks at social movements in an internet age. It analyses how protests and movements for social change can succeed online and why they can fail.

The book can be downloaded for free here. It’s a long and definitely optional read, but definitely recommended (you can also read it after the main part of the WEASA summer school has passed!)

Here’s one of our favourite quotes from the book, on how Facebook is a tool used for marketing and therefore doesn’t always align with the interests of social movements:

“Like” is an advertising friendly signal, and advertising finances Facebook. A “Dislike” button might help activists, for example, by letting them express displeasure with [the] powerful (…), but it would upset the marketers who pay for Facebook ads because (…) brands [could] be subjected to withering public criticisms.


Data protection and the transatlantic relationship

The EU tries to take data protection pretty seriously. But the internet is a global network, so problems can easily emerge when EU citizens’ data ends up in the hands of companies from the US or elsewhere.

This blog post (10 min read), by our WEASA speaker Peter Chase, introduces the Privacy Shield, a mechanism that the EU and US developed to try and fix this problem.

Peter Chase has, along with a wide group of other experts, also formulated a report on social media moderation and the transatlantic relationship (60 min read). It looks at how discussions over freedom of speech, disinformation, and content moderation cannot just take place in either the EU or US alone but must take on a transatlantic angle. The report looks at several key issues we must consider when talking about content moderation, including transparency, accountability, and the differences between content and behaviour.


Content moderation and big tech

WEASA 2020 is called public speech, private platforms. We chose the name in part to shed light on the role that private businesses such as Facebook and Twitter play in our public and political discussions. Those platforms are privately owned, but they also play a very public function, providing the information infrastructure that our politics and society rely on. This raises a lot of questions, for example on how those platforms decide what content stays up and what is removed, and who (if anyone) keeps them accountable.

This book chapter (26 pages) by Jillian C. York (our WEASA lecturer!) and Ethan Zuckerman looks at the paradox of public speech on private platforms. It takes us through a brief history of user-generated content, why it plays an important role in democratisation and human rights, and sheds some light on today’s content moderation dynamics. It’s an optional but much recommended read.


Geolocation and open source intelligence

WEASA 2020 will also introduce geolocation – or the art of figuring out where and when an image was taken. Geolocation has been a crucial part of many digital investigations. It has, for example, allowed journalists to track military movements by figuring out where exactly photos published in newspapers or social media were taken.

Since there is so much great geolocation-related content that exists out there online, we have compiled a big list of links. Explore whichever topic that appeals most to you!

One of the best known outlets that deals with open source investigations and geolocation is called Bellingcat. It’s definitely worth it to browse around some of their content if you haven’t already, especially their MH17 investigation and the first season of their podcast (five 30+ min episodes). They even did a feature on how they located a wanted criminal based on Instagram posts (20 min read)!

Bellingcat’s founder Eliot Higgins has written a great introduction to geolocation (10 minute read). First Draft News has also done a video introduction to the topic (2.5 minutes).

There’s also a Twitter community called Quiztime, where the authors regularly post images, asking users to geolocate them. They’ve also published guides, for example on how to use shadows to figure out the time at which a photo was taken (10 min read) and a geolocation case study (15 min read).

If you’re interested in exploring more case studies, we can recommend Aric Toler’s article on lessons learned from the MH17 investigation (12 min read), as well as the New York Times analysis of an Iranian airplane crash (4.5 min video).


Investigative journalism

You can learn a lot about investigative journalism by just reading a well-crafted investigation or two and thinking about the techniques, data, and methods it uses. There are no compulsory readings for this session so far, but it’s definitely worth to look at one or more investigations ahead of time.

Two investigations that might be worth taking a look at are OCCRP’s Fraud Factory, which looks at an investment scam that spanned multiple countries and left many people impoverished, and ARIJ’s piece on Quranic Kindergartens in Tunisia (40 minute read). OCCRP (the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) in general has a huge number of fascinating investigations and are definitely worth checking out.


Understanding disinformation

The German Marshall Fund of the United States, one of the WEASA organisers, has a department called the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD). Last year, ASD published a report (full report 66 pages, executive summary 15 min read) on countering authoritarian influence in democracies, co-authored by our WEASA lecturer Nad’a Kovalchikova.

The report looks at how Europe’s adversaries rely less on military power and more on financial influence, disinformation, subversion, cyberattacks, and other asymmetric techniques. It also includes a list of recommendations that Europe could take to strengthen its political and social systems as to be less susceptible to such attacks.

The executive summary is our first compulsory read – make sure that you are familiar with it before Nad’a has her lecture and workshop session on Thursday, July 9th. The full report is a recommended, but not a compulsory, read.


Digital security

Motherboard, a publication by VICE, has created a great introduction to digital security (60 minute read). It gives a great look at security practices and the way in which we make decisions about our security tools. It is a great introduction, though somewhat US-centric. The last revision was in 2018, but most of the advice in the piece still stands.

The above guide, in its entirety, is our second compulsory read – make sure that you’ve read it before our digital security sessions on Friday, July 10th. 

Some more great resources include the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defence guides and the guides produced by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.


Security, usability, and psychology

If you’d like to learn more about how people perceive security and work with tools such as encrypted email in the field, then I’d recommend starting with pieces such as Why Johnny Can’t Encrypt, which takes a look at the the usability difficulties in an email encryption tool. Why Johnny doesn’t use two factor is a similar study, but it looks at how people perceive two factor authentication via hardware keys. Similarly, this piece looks at how users think about end-to-end encryption, what assumptions and misconceptions they have about it.

I can definitely recommend this brilliant introduction to the psychology of security as well.

And if you want to run your own trainings, definitely take a look at this guide and take some inspiration from this one, too!


Social engineering

Social engineering is an absolutely fascinating read. If you’re looking for a good introduction into the intersection of cyberattacks and social engineering, I can recommend this study by the Royal Danish Defence College.


Advanced Security

If you feel very comfortable with the tech and terminology surrounding digital security and are looking for more in-depth guides on how organisations manage their security, take a look at:

  • Any chapters you might find interesting within the Google SRE books (particularly the last one, Building Secure and Reliable Systems)
  • Internews has also created a framework called SAFETAG, which helps organisations improve their security through audits