TIME world affairs

Don’t Dismiss Poverty’s Role in Terrorism Yet

The studies are mixed, but our analysis should not be hasty

With the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris earlier this month, pundits are again questioning a commonly-cited motive for radicalization. Media leaders are outright dismissing the possible role poverty plays in terrorism. On Hardball, Chris Matthews stated, “The world is filled with hundreds and hundreds of millions of poor people who have no prospects at all, but they don’t go around killing people. India is packed with poor people and they don’t go around killing people. Africa the same. These are killers.” The Wall Street Journal opined, “Wednesday’s attack also demonstrates again that violent Islam isn’t a reaction to poverty or Western policies in the Middle East. It is an ideological challenge to Western civilization and principles, including a free press and religious pluralism.”

Are the commentators right to dismiss poverty as a cause of terrorism? Policymakers, for their part, have shown a consistent tendency to name poverty as a primary motivation for terrorist acts. For example, in remarks made after a meeting with the Vatican’s Secretary of State in 2014, John Kerry declared, “We have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.”

Scholars, however, have often come to opposite conclusions. A 2006 study on terrorism for 96 countries between 1986 and 2002 found no link between its economic measures and terrorism. In 2002, Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton, and Jitka Malecková, an associate professor at the Institute for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Charles University, made the argument in The New Republic against poverty’s role in terrorism with a wide-ranging presentation of evidence including evidence gathered from Hezbollah and Hamas suggesting that upper class and more educated individuals are slightly over-represented in among terrorists because terror groups actively select for those individuals from large populations of potential recruits.’

This wealth of scholarly evidence is certainly daunting for those who argue that poverty is a cause of terrorism. However, before dismissing poverty out of hand, the pundits ought to show restraint and scholars should continue to update and reanalyze the data.

Why should media critics and academics alike avoid a rush to judgment on poverty and terrorism? For one thing, some scholarly literature documents a relationship though not necessarily a causal one—between poverty and some terrorism. A 2011 study (notably disputed by Krueger and Malecková, among others) found a positive relationship between unemployment and right wing extremist crimes committed in Germany. A 1977 study of terrorist profiles which supported the conclusion that terrorists are generally middle or upper class noted that the Provisional Irish Republican Army constituted an exception both in terms of social class and educational attainment. The Basque terrorist group ETA provides another interesting example: Goldie Shabad and Francisco Ramo point out in the edited anthology Terrorism in Context that over time, membership in ETA grew among working class individuals while it declined among the upper classes.

These examples demonstrate a fundamental structural problem in method and approach. By treating terrorism as a single category that can be examined across multiple countries and decades rather than focusing on particular groups or individuals, we overlook patterns that exist in some but not all cases.

Indeed, it is quite likely there are multiple routes into terrorism, some of which might involve poverty and some of which might not. When this data is aggregated, the poverty-related routes become less visible, but that does not mean they don’t exist. Where scholars are often careful to acknowledge this limitation, pundits have sidelined it in grand pronouncements that poverty does not cause terrorism.

Shifting our thinking on methods used to evaluate relationships between terrorism and poverty may well reveal new dimensions other potential explanations for terrorism, such as mental illness. Recent studies have found that while terrorists involved in terrorist groups are not particularly likely to be mentally ill, those who act alone are far more likely than the general population to be mentally ill. One study found 40% of the 98 lone wolves it examined to have identifiable mental health issues compared to only 1.5% of the general population.

One size will never fit all. Searching for single-category, causal explanations for terrorism and dismissing correlated elements like poverty and mental illness as irrelevant is likely to obscure other patterns that could shed light on extremist behavior. Some Americans involved in terrorism have come from affluent backgrounds: Anwar Awlaki, the American cleric who took on a leadership role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was the son of a major Yemeni political figure and Zachary Chesser, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to join Al Shabaab and threatening the creators of South Park over their depiction of Mohammed, was born to a well off family in the Virginia suburbs. On the other hand, American Somalis—82 percent of whom live near or below the poverty line according to a 2008 Census Bureau study—are the source of the largest groups travelling to fight with jihadist groups abroad. The New York Times referred to the group of Minnesotans—most of whom were of Somali descent—that travelled to fight for Al Shabaab as “the largest group of American citizens suspected of joining an extremist movement affiliated with Al Qaeda.” Since that report, the same communities have wrestled with a new wave of individuals travelling to fight in Syria.

Community members on the ground contend that the economic situation explains the persistence of jihadist recruitment among Minnesota’s Somali community. Fartun Weli, a founder of a nonprofit helping Somali women, told Voice of America that “Kids are being recruited. Yes, this is a fact. What are we going to do about it? We have to talk about the root causes that make Somali kids vulnerable … we have to make sure there are opportunities created for our community to exit poverty.”

This case calls for more study and disaggregation when looking at the potential role of poverty in causing terrorism. It is also important to consider that the argument that terrorists are often middle class and well educated because terrorist groups are capable of selecting their preferred operatives from a large pool of recruits depends on the context. Some groups, particularly well-developed groups have name recognition and screening mechanisms in place, but newer, less well-known outfits usually do not. Others may simply not be interested in screening their recruits or consider it a priority compared to gaining more manpower or the propaganda edge of a large and diverse fighting force.

Indeed, one of the primary characteristics of ISIS’ use of foreign fighters today is that they are not particularly selective about who they accept into their ranks. As Peter Neumann, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Political Violence put it, “The Islamic State is also less selective than a lot of other groups. If you come from the West, don’t speak Arabic, you’re not a particularly good fighter and don’t have a particular skill, IS will probably still accept you.”

Some groups, for example Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have even adopted open source methods publishing bombmaking instructions online to encourage attacks where they have difficulty inserting operatives with close ties to the organization. But in adopting such an open source leaderless strategy they surrender any ability to conduct screening.

None of this is to say that an affirmative case for the role of poverty in causing terrorism is clear. However, it is time for new studies on the subject and a move towards examinations of more specific threat actors using within-case variation and other methods capable of revealing how poverty might have different effects in different contexts. Assuming previous studies still explain the dynamics in the cases we face today could lead to blind spots allowing threats to mature unhindered.

David Sterman is a research associate for New America’s International Security Program and a graduate of Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

How My Dad’s Brain Cancer Finally Convinced Me to Quit Facebook

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why

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Facebook has an average of 864 million active daily users, but as of a month ago, that number was reduced by at least one person—me. And every time I tell someone that I hit the “Delete My Account” button, it’s like I’m making some shocking confession.

“Why?” most ask incredulously.

While there is no one answer, the tipping point was my dad’s recent diagnosis with stage four glioblastoma—brain cancer.

I got my dad’s news in the middle of October when he had quite suddenly begun experiencing symptoms. His wife took him to the ER where doctors later discovered a large mass in his brain.

My dad and his wife have been together for 19 years. He moved in with her and her two young daughters—much younger than me—after my parents divorced when I was 15. I often daydreamed about what my dad’s life must have been like with his new family. But I didn’t have to wonder once I finally visited their home many years later and saw all of the family photos around their house: posed pictures of the four of them all in black T-shirts and khakis, pics of them in formal wear on a cruise ship, candids from holidays past.

He had obviously built a strong relationship with his stepdaughters, particularly the youngest. And it would be her face I was left staring at on Facebook after my dad’s diagnosis. She changed her profile photo to a picture of her and my dad, which felt like a punch in the stomach even though I knew logically that it wasn’t about me. I clicked on her profile at least once a day to see if she had changed it.

In order to further pick at the scab, I took to Googling her name with my dad’s name. I found out they had done a 5k together a couple of years ago and that when she played soccer in high school, my father and her mother were listed as her parents.

I told all of this to my therapist, who did not respond the way I had hoped.

Instead she said, “I think you should block her on your Facebook feed.”

I cried when she said that because something in me craved the tortuous feelings that came from clicking on this girl’s profile. But I was prepared to do it. However, when I started thinking about it—really thinking about it—I realized that her profile picture and updates weren’t the only things I was discontent about being on Facebook.

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why. It offers us innumerable opportunities to compare our own lives with the lives that our Facebook friends choose to present to us. And I say “choose to present” because it hardly ever offers the whole picture. Someone announces her new job but fails to mention she was fired from the last one. Other people overstate their financial status, relationships, how perfect their kids are, or just how amazingly fun and interesting their lives are in general.

So after some reflection, I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why I ultimately quit:

Being on Facebook gave me a false sense of community. I’d been kicking around the idea of getting off of Facebook for awhile but would excuse the fact that I was still on it with exclamations like, “This is the only way I still keep up with some people!” But if someone isn’t even worth an email, text, phone call, or postcard, are they really worth me “keeping up with” on Facebook? And can that even be considered keeping up with them?

For me, Facebook made me feel like I had this village of support around me, but it was essentially a form of voyeurism. What I needed to do was return some emails, send some texts, reach out to people—and not just “like” their status update about having pancakes for brunch or comment on a picture of their kid’s latest dance recital.

I needed something real. I needed someone to see me with puffy eyes and unwashed hair and baby-food-stained sweatpants while I drank boxed wine and watched Gilmore Girls reruns. I needed someone to hit the metaphorical thumbs-up sign on that picture, and I needed to do the same for other people.

It made me feel sad/annoyed/jealous. Seeing the photos my dad’s stepdaughter was posting of the two of them together—memorializing him like he was already gone—was killing me. Then there were the complaining vaguebookers, not-so-humble braggers, and myriad other photos, links, and updates that were bumming me out.

Plus, I didn’t like feeling bad about myself for not having a new job or new dog or freshly blown-out hair or a perfectly Pinterest-ed party to photograph and post on Facebook. Or, perhaps most importantly, a picture of me and my dad looking and feeling healthy.

It was a time suck that distracted me from the present moment. I would find myself mindlessly scrolling through a high school acquaintance’s 200-photo album of Disney World photos and then looking up to realize I’d let a whole hour pass doing something I didn’t consciously even want to be doing. What else could I have been doing with that time that would be way more enjoyable for me?

So what does life after Facebook look like?

I have friends telling me they wish they could do the same thing. Newsflash: They can if they really want to. But I know how they feel. For the longest time, I’ve felt like I needed permission to do something as simple as quitting Facebook. So I finally gave myself the go-ahead.

I’ve had more interactions with people via email, text, phone, and in person. I think some of the people that have reached out to me think I’ve suddenly unfriended them on Facebook, but regardless of the reason, it’s been nice to actually have one-on-one chats with folks about what’s going on in their lives and in mine.

I have more time. Last night after my three-year-old and her eight-month-old sister were tucked into bed and the dishes were done and the comfy pants were on, I slow danced in the kitchen with my husband and cried into his shoulder (I’m still a bucket full of emotions). I’ve also finished two and a half books, sent out thank-you notes for Christmas presents, and figured out how to properly shape my own eyebrows. And I’ve learned I need to find a hobby.

I still don’t know if I made the right decision, though. So I ask you: Have you pulled the plug on your Facebook account? If so, what was the tipping point for you? If not, have you thought about it? What’s stopped you from quitting?

FYI, if you’re looking to take the plunge: Save yourself the time and trouble of looking for the link on your Facebook profile page and just google “Delete Facebook account.” You want the first link that pops up. You’ll have the opportunity to download a copy of your info—all the photos and such you’ve uploaded to Facebook—and then you can either deactivate or permanently delete your Facebook account. I opted for the latter.

Jen Harper wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: These Texting and Social Media Habits Could Sabotage Your Love Life

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME relationships

People Who Use Emojis Have More Sex

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Match.com's annual dating survey found that people who use more emojis in text messages have more active sex lives

While this probably isn’t news to fans of the eggplant emoji, a new study found that single people who use emojis have more sex than those who abstain.

Match.com’s annual Singles in America survey — which polled 5,675 (non-Match using) singles whose demographics were representative of the national population according to the U.S. Census — found that people who have more sex, tend to use emojis more.

“It turns out that 54% of emoji users had sex in 2014 compared to 31% of singles who did not,” Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University who helped lead the study, tells TIME. And the more emojis singles used, the more sex they tended to have, as illustrated by Match’s handy emoji-to-intercourse graph:

Match.com's Singles in America Survey
Match.com’s Singles in America Survey

According to the data, released Wednesday, these statistics held true for men and women in the 20s, 30s and 40s.

And, food for thought, women who use kiss-related emojis have an easier time achieving orgasms with a familiar partner. That may be because emoji users cared more about finding partners who consider communication a desirable trait.

It’s notoriously difficult to read tone in texts and emails, but emojis can bridge the gap. “[Emoji users] want to give their texts more personality,” says Fisher. “Here we have a new technology that absolutely jeopardizes your ability to express your emotion… there is no more subtle inflection of the voice … and so we have created another way to express emotions and that is the emoji.”

Because it’s not all about that rocket ship/volcano/insert-other-suggestive-emoji here.

“Emoji users don’t just have more sex, they go on more dates and they are two times more likely to want to get married,” Fisher says. “Sixty-two percent of emoji users want to get married compared to 30% of people who never used an emoji… that’s pretty good.”

Thankfully there are appropriate diamond cartoons for your inevitable Instagram engagement announcement.

TIME Education

Free Community College Isn’t the Answer

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The president’s tuition giveaway won’t land more people middle-class jobs. Here’s what will

In the past few weeks, President Obama’s free community college tuition proposal has received a lot of media attention as a strategy for rebuilding the middle class. Even if the president’s initiative does advance in some form, though, it will have little impact on California’s 2.2 million community college students, or on most other community college students around the nation. Community colleges do have the major role in rebuilding the middle class, but their challenges lie beyond tuition.

Today in California, the majority of community college students, and nearly all low-income students, pay few, if any fees. As business columnist Kathleen Pender has detailed, almost half of the state’s community college students receive a waiver on all fees. Federal Pell grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit, for which low- and even middle-income students are eligible, are additional financial supports. Tuition is not a significant obstacle to enrollment for Californians at all incomes, and hasn’t been for some years.

Instead, at the top of concerns for community college administrators is the low student completion level. The majority of community college students leave without a degree or certificate. A 2010 study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at California State University Sacramento concluded that within six years of enrollment, only 30 percent of California community students earn an associate or bachelor’s degree. This study finding is consistent with national completion rates, which several estimates have put in the range of 30 to 40 percent.

That low completion rate is rooted in the high number of students who enter community colleges with low math and reading levels. A series of reports over the past decade have found that roughly two-thirds of students enter California community colleges with math and reading levels below those needed to complete college level classes. This gap in basic skills is the main reason students leave without a degree or certificate.

Growth Sector, a Bay Area-based education and job training partnership, has been quietly working since 2008 to address the remediation needs of community college students. At the same time, Growth Sector is addressing the needs of employers by preparing students for jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, especially for engineering technician and related jobs.

Engineering technician jobs, along with jobs such as medical technician, information technology technician, and automotive technician, are distinguished by decent wages (above $15 an hour) and problem solving tasks that cannot be easily automated or off-shored. These “new technician” jobs are part of an emerging middle-class segment of American occupations.

Growth Sector’s main training today is its “Engineering Pathway” through which participants—a mix of veterans, low-income adults, and first-generation college students—earn an associate degree in engineering, and proceed in some cases to a Bachelor of Science in engineering.

The majority of participants start with math and reading levels in the range of seventh to eighth grade, well below college level. They enroll in a yearlong intensive math curriculum, starting at intermediate algebra, and proceeding through geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. “Math is the major barrier to STEM careers, and increasingly to careers in other fields,” Growth Sector’s co-founder and director David Gruber told me.

The Engineering Pathway curriculum is developed and refined by the participating community colleges—four across Northern and Southern California—in close contact with local employers, and Growth Sector. “Early on I learned to start with what the employers needed and work back,” explained Growth Sector’s other co-founder and director, Caz Pereira.

Gruber and Pereira already had decades of education and employment project experience when they founded the organization. By the early 2000s, they had decided that job training needed to shift from training in separate settings, such as community agencies and nonprofits, to mainstream educational institutions, primarily community colleges. “Mainstream institutions have the resources, expertise, and a credential recognized by employers that smaller nonprofits often lack,” Gruber said.

Growth Sector has experimented with different strategies in its remedial math training and has landed on four main approaches:

  • Learning communities: The 25 participants in each Engineering Pathway cohort take all of their classes together, which Gruber says has surprised him with the value of peer tutoring and support.
  • Concentrated learning: The math training is accelerated so that students “eat, sleep, and breathe” math, 24 hours a day.
  • Intensive one-to-one tutoring: Each cohort is assigned a “student support specialist” who closely monitors student progress, helps access tutoring, and helps address personal issues.
  • Internships: Students are placed in paid internships with engineering, computer science, and research institutions.

None of these approaches is particularly new or dramatic. Most are being tried today at community colleges around the country. But of the students enrolled over the past two years of the Engineering Pathway, over 65 percent have advanced from intermediate algebra to pre-calculus in one year, and moved on to continuing STEM education. The number of affiliated employers is steadily growing Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley labs, NASA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are among the organizations now providing work experience for program participants. Gruber maintains that Engineering Pathway’s success demonstrates that “the number of community college students who can master advanced mathematics is considerably more than usual expectations.”

Though Growth Sector is one of California’s best training efforts, it is not alone. Twenty to 30 community college campuses in California are experimenting with innovative remediation efforts and employer partnerships. Going forward, a challenge is how to identify and expand effective work-based remediation efforts in a cost-effective manner.

Any initiative to grow the middle class will consist of numerous elements that go well beyond education and training. Currently, around half of recent college graduates in California and the United States are working in jobs that do not require a college degree; increasing degrees by itself will have a limited impact on income distribution. Further, the jobs projected to have the greatest number of openings in the next decade are ones that require no postsecondary education.

But education and training are one element in any middle-class initiative, and the community colleges are central because of the number of students they educate, their mission of upward mobility, and their universal access. Free community college tuition is not an answer. Instead, the way forward lies in the efforts of local college administrators and individual practitioners, like Gruber and Pereira, experimenting with remediation and job placement projects, building from the ground up.

Michael Bernick, a Zocalo contributing editor, is the former director of the California labor department, and Milken Institute Fellow. His newest book, with Richard Holden, is The Autism Job Club, based on an essay that first appeared at Zocalo. He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

The World-Wide Muzzle and What to Do About It

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Free speech matters online, and companies and governments need to rethink behaviors that are infringing upon the rights of Internet users

After terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo earlier this month, a group of European Union ministers executed a more covert attack on freedom of expression around the world. They issued a statement calling on Internet companies to be more proactive about monitoring, reporting, and removing “material that aims to incite hatred and terror.” British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to be on the same page, announcing last week that he wants to ban encrypted online messaging services.

The latest calls in Europe for increased censorship and surveillance are part of a broader problem: governments of all types use terror and crime (including everything from child exploitation to copyright violations) as an excuse to pressure Internet companies to monitor and control user behavior in ways that can lead to violations of Internet users’ rights.

We’ve described the extent of this problem in a new UNESCO report, Fostering Freedom Online: The Role of Internet Intermediaries, which takes a detailed look at how legal, regulatory, and commercial frameworks help or hinder Internet companies’ ability to respect users’ free expression online. Authors Rebecca MacKinnon, Elonnai Hickok, Allon Bar, and Hae-in Lim worked with an international team of researchers to examine 11 different companies operating across the world, highlighting power struggles that shape who controls the flow of information online and how content gets restricted. We conclude that governments and companies need to rethink behaviors that are infringing upon the rights of Internet users.

A lot of this thinking builds on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which says governments have the primary duty to protect human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to privacy (which itself is considered a prerequisite for freedom of expression). All companies, including those that operate Internet platforms and services, also have a responsibility to respect those rights. The report takes stock of how companies are doing in this regard, and how governments either help or hinder companies from upholding their human rights responsibilities.

We found two broad categories of problems:

  1. Governments are making it hard for companies to respect users’ free expression rights. While some of the most egregious examples are found in China, Russia, and the other usual authoritarian suspects, the problem exists to varying degrees across the gamut of political systems and cultural contexts. Laws, government policies, and regulations – even those enacted by well-meaning public servants seeking to address genuine problems of crime, terror, and child protection – not only erode free expression rights online but also cause companies to carry out censorship and surveillance, affecting speech that should be protected and respected under human rights law.

A major culprit is law that holds companies legally responsible – liable – for what their users say and do. While countries like China have long blacklists of words and phrases that companies like the Chinese search engine Baidu must delete if they want to stay in business, censorship can still be heavy in some democracies. Facebook received more government requests to censor content in India than in any other country where it makes an effort to operate (Facebook is blocked in China).

  1. Companies are not transparent enough about how they restrict content and collect or share user data. Despite the clear problems that governments cause, companies are not doing enough to minimize users’ freedom of expression from being unduly restricted when they comply with government demands or enforce their own terms of service. Companies also need to be more transparent about how these actions affect users’ ability to express themselves or access information – as well as clarify who has access to users’ personal information and under what circumstances.

A growing number of companies in North America and Europe have started to issue transparency reports with data about the number of government requests they receive and how many they comply with. But many companies report more extensively on user data requests than on censorship requests, and many do not report any information about requests for content restriction or how they comply.

For example, Vodafone started to report last year about the law enforcement requests it receives for user data and bulk surveillance. But it is not transparent about content removals, including its role in a voluntary scheme in the UK to protect children from age-inappropriate content. In mid-2014 the non-profit Open Rights Group found that the system blocked adults from accessing content that included an article about postpartum depression and the blog of a Syrian commentator. Also, while companies like Twitter report extensively on content restrictions in response to legally binding external requests, they provide no information about content being removed to enforce their private “Twitter rules.”

To be sure, we’re not arguing that people should be free to do anything they want online regardless of consequences. Rather, it’s critical that restriction of speech or interference in peoples’ privacy should be “necessary and proportionate,” based on clear legal authority to address a specific threat or crime, and should be as narrowly tailored as possible. Accountability mechanisms are key.

What, then, are the next steps for governments and companies? Here are a few of our recommendations for governments and companies moving forward:

  • Laws and regulations affecting online speech must undergo due diligence to ensure they are compatible with international human rights norms.
  • Policies at the national, regional, and international level that affect online speech need to be developed jointly by representatives of all affected stakeholder groups (such as industry, civil society groups, and technical experts).
  • Transparency about censorship is just as important as transparency about surveillance. Transparency from governments and companies about how their censorship and content restriction processes work, in addition to public reporting about the amount and nature of content being restricted, is essential to prevent abuses and improve accountability.
  • Companies that “self-regulate” by using private terms of service to restrict content that the law does not forbid, or which comply with extra-legal blacklists generated by non-governmental groups, must be transparent with the public about what is being restricted, under what circumstances, by whose authority.
  • Governments and companies need to set up effective mechanisms for people to report abuses and grievances, as well as processes through which aggrieved parties can obtain redress.

Our current project, Ranking Digital Rights, plans to hold companies accountable. While organizations such as Freedom House and the World Wide Web Foundation annually rank governments on how well they protect Internet users’ rights, we are in the process of developing a parallel methodology to measure and compare companies’ respect for users’ rights around the world. The first public ranking is scheduled for launch in late 2015.

Priya Kumar is a Program Associate with New America’s Ranking Digital Rights project. Rebecca MacKinnon directs the Ranking Digital Rights project at the New America Foundation. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Race

Being Black Shouldn’t Mean I Have to Be ‘Twice as Good’

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

You saw it on 'Scandal.' We've heard it our whole lives

Black feminist, theorist, and author Audre Lorde once wrote, “Raising black children, female and male, in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they will probably not survive.”

As I live life in this world as a black woman, I often wonder, how does one, at a young age, learn to both love and resist? What does resistance in the face of racism and sexism look like? And, how young is too young to learn these lessons of survival?

I was five years old, braided twists and colorful bobbles and barrettes in my hair, learning to read for the first time, when my mother held me close and gave me my first lesson in respectability politics, and, consequently, my first lesson in survival for a person of black girlhood.

My mother, a Caribbean-American immigrant born in Jamaica, and I were reading Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli at the time. In this book Mr. Magee reaches the town of Two Mills — a town literally divided by racial lines. In Two Mills, Black citizens lived in the East End while the white citizens lived in the West End. On his first day in East End, Mr. Magee met and befriended a reluctant Amanda Beale.

Amanda Beale, an impeccably dressed black girl with glasses, plaits, a messenger bag full of books, and on her way into East End’s school house, just didn’t have time for the strange, ripped-and-dirty-clothes-wearing white boy who in his haste to talk to her was making her late for school.

Amanda Beale was an avid reader, a no-nonsense girl who had no problem putting Mr. Magee in his place. She was smart, confident, well-read, and poor. Amanda Beale was relegated to best friend of the main character status. Despite the book’s white savior complex (and the fetishizing comparisons of Mr. Magee’s newfound black friends’ skin complexions to foods like caramel and coffee beans), this novel was essential to my development.

It’s clear to me, now, that my mother had chosen it for us to read because of its discussions on race relations. It was my literary introduction to my mother’s lessons on respectability and survival.

It began when I expressed my awe of Amanda Beale’s character. She wasn’t like any representation of a black girl I’d seen in the media thus far, and yes, at five, I picked up on that. To this notion, my mother held me close. Her voice trembled but she looked me squarely in the eyes.

“Are you listening?” she’d said.

“Yes, Mom,” I replied, because in our house it was “yes, Mom” or “no, Mom.” There was no, “What?” “Huh?” or my mother’s least favorite, “What do you want?” to be had or heard in that house.

“You like Amanda, right?”

I nodded my head, my hair bobbles click-clacking with the movement.

“You see that she can read and write better and she doesn’t take anything from anybody?”

I nodded again. I did see. Amanda’s intelligence wasn’t a novelty to us, though. Despite what the media will tell you, black women are statistically the most college-educated across racial and gender lines in American society.

But an Amanda Beale would be a novelty to some. And my mother understood that. In that moment, she would make damn sure I understood that, too.

“There are people in this world who will…” she scrunched up her eyebrows and nose, debating her words with careful precision, “underestimate you. They’ll say little things. They’ll doubt that you’re smart, they’ll doubt that you’re kind, some will even treat you like less than a human being deserves.”

I didn’t like where this conversation was going.

Because I was five and maybe it was too soon for me to be learning this, really contextualizing and unpacking this, but what was the alternative? A black girl ill-equipped will be chewed up and spit out. I didn’t yet know that a black girl can never be equipped enough to face the racism and sexism of this world, though we quite literally fight and, some, die trying.

All I could do in my discomfort was squirm. My mother believed that a small price to pay. She held me, firmly.

“There are people in this world that will judge and hurt you, because of me.”

She said things like that a lot.

She blamed herself for the racially and classist based mistreatment that my brother and I would face. As if it was her fault that her children are black, like blackness is a stain on our skin and a stain that needs to be wiped out by society. Or like capitalism, racism, and her disabilities weren’t partly to blame for her, at the time, working class status in society.

You see, before my mother knew anything about me, she knew two key things that would dictate the trajectory of my life: I would be born black and she would have to raise me on a limited income. She blamed herself. People of this world have ill-formed preconceived notions of black people, black women, poor people, poor black people, and especially preconceived negative notions of poor black women.

Back on her bed, she told me, “Because of that, you’ll have to study hard and push yourself. You’ll have to push yourself harder than most other people because that isn’t expected of you. You don’t want people to think you’re not smart do you?”

I shook my head slowly from left to right. No.

“Good,” she said.

She would teach me respectability and a form of survival in order to combat classist, racist, and sexist attitudes. This conversation was only the beginning.

When I was nine years old, living a few towns over in Mattapan, Massachusetts in another three bedroom apartment, I remember having fun joking with my younger brother.

Arriving home from school, we’d barely stepped over the threshold of the front entrance to our apartment. My high cheekbones etched with the laughing lines of my pronounced lips, I joked with my brother in African-American Vernacular English. Some people also refer to this language, steeped in both English and West African linguistic patterns, as slang and/or Ebonics.

My brother laughed at whatever I had said.

My mother rapped us both with a light slap to our book-bag strap clad shoulders. She wagged her right index finger, maneuvering her finger and reprimanding stern look between the both of us.

“Don’t talk like that. Because if you say that here, you’ll slip up and speak like that outside.”

She “humphed” and walked further into our home, leaving my brother and me to stew with our thoughts.

There, walking away from us further into the house, was a woman whose Jamaican born parents told her to “lose” her accent in order to better assimilate into American society and negate negative stereotypes. To this day, my mother’s voice and speech pattern of Jamaican patois only becomes laden with a Jamaican accent when she’s angry.

There was a woman who’d learned her own respectability politics from her mother, my Nana, and was now passing this knowledge down to us.

This was my mother’s act of revolution, my mother’s lesson of resistance, my mother’s shield to racism and classism that she gave to her children. It was her only hope to fight the fear of our forthcoming mistreatment.

While white children could speak in popular slang terms and not be judged as unintelligent and forced to represent their entire race, my brother and I had to mind our tongues from speaking in a language that our people had hatched, cultivated, and enriched. I reflect on this at a time when it is popular for ads for various companies and products to use Ebonics or slang to sell their products, although their companies don’t reflect a diverse group of employees in positions of power.

At the time of being reprimanded for our slang, my brother and I, nine and eight respectively, had only mostly been subject to microagressions. Sure, when I was only four and my father had been taken to a police station under the guise of “justified” racial profiling, a white cop walking near me, “bumped” into me and assaulted my small frame with the gun latched into his holster. And sure, he didn’t apologize and he walked on by like he hadn’t done anything wrong or, quite frankly, committed an act of violence against a four-year-old black girl. My mother lit into him with verbal foliage so colorful that I’m sure his children many times over will feel the wake of its effects before they ever commit other acts of racism. Or, so I hope.

But, mostly we’d been subject to casual racism, like the teachers at my school who told me I was so articulate and spoke so well. (What did they expect? It was at a rare rigorous elementary school in the inner city where they themselves instructed me.) Or like the people who asked my mother if she was sure that her daughter played the violin in a highly selective orchestra. Was she sure? Hell yes. She only drove me to six-hour rehearsals every Sunday.

But, my mother upheld that if my brother and I negated these ill-formed pre-conceived notions by not speaking in Ebonics and studied hard, our lot in life would be easier.

In fact, later that year when my predominately white fourth grade class that I was bused to via an advanced placement program for Boston-based minorities was learning our multiplication time tables, she turned it into another respectability lesson.

First, my mother had me make a flash card set of multiplication equations up until the “12 times” tables.

She, in no uncertain terms, told me to sit down and learn them and not to come to her unless I learned, understood, and memorized them all.

“If you come to me and I test you on any one of these and find that you don’t know them, I’m gonna spank you.”

I violently shook my head from side to side and protested, stamping my foot into the hardwood. It was ill-advised. I’m lucky she didn’t snatch me up right then and there for the rare form of disrespect administered by a child of color to her parent of color. In non-western cultures, disrespect to your elders is more than frowned upon.

And so I wised up, “fixed my face,” and sat up straighter, mumbling a sorry.

She sighed.

“I’m not doing this to punish you. You need to understand.”

She got closer now, in my face where we could be eye level.

“You have to be twice — TWICE — as good to get half of what they have. Always.”

I fought back tears.

I was already experiencing this in school — and I did have to be “twice as good” to be applauded for my work in class when my mostly white classmates escaped casual racism on a daily basis. I did have to stand out to be noticed or celebrated in a world that directly and indirectly berates children of color and reprimands us when we attempt to carve out spaces for ourselves. I did have to go above and beyond in all things to negate the racism that I would face in a “prove them wrong” fashion.

And when my white classmates’ parents leered at my peers of color and me for taking up too many seats in the local school of their suburban neighborhood, though we’d earned our seats through placing high scores on a test while some white students weren’t nearly as well-read, versed, or didn’t study as hard as we did, those white students were still celebrated and cherished members of our school environment. They would still grow up to be privileged in a classist and racial context of our society. And I would still face classism and racism as a poor black girl until the day I die.

I learned all of my multiplication tables that day.

Not before trying to skirt past my mother’s own rigorous standards and pretend like I’d learned them all. She started with the hardest ones first, weeding them out until she caught one that I couldn’t rattle off immediately.

And she whooped my butt.

From the clothes my brother and I wore, to the conversations we held, to the ways in which we wore our hair, to the music we listened to, to the schools we were admitted to, down to the grades we received, there was always a double standard to be met.

I remember as a young teen joking with my cousin and brother as we procured bandanas for our hair, loosened our pants so that they hung low, and walked with a limp in our step around my cousin’s home.

“Nah come ‘round here like no city boppin’ fool… Chuh!”

The three of us, my cousin, brother, and I, jumped in place having been startled. Turning, we spotted our grandmother’s disapproving look. We quickly straightened, fixed our pants, and ripped the bandanas from our heads. It felt like we’d been caught committing a cardinal sin. As a joke, we’d adopted caricatured mannerisms of the ways in which we saw black and brown people being portrayed on television, but with our grandmother’s reprimands, the moment quickly became serious.

I reflect on this moment at a time when it is trendy on social media for my white peers to take selfies wearing hoodies, black sunglasses and caption their photos “thug life.”

And at a time when it’s popular for college students to adopt “thug,” “gangster,” or “hood” Halloween costumes, complete with painting their skins black or brown. I can’t articulate enough that baggy clothes, bandanas, hats, and braids don’t make a person a gangster or a thug. The juxtaposition of white skin against these articles of clothing allow for a sort of costuming or ironic joke to take place. It’s funny when a white suburban kid dresses up in a hoodie, baggie jeans, etc. because “of course,” the white suburban kid would never be suspected as being a thug. “Of course,” the white suburban kid would or could never be a thug.

In reality, more often than not, a white person committing a crime is never described or policed as a “thug” but, rather, “misunderstood,” and treated as a human being entitled to due process in a court of law.

However, my brother, cousin, and I are not allowed that “joke” in the context of our lives. Despite the college educations at top universities between the three of us, more often than not we will be perceived as threats, thugs, or dangerous in our lifetimes. That statement is not for semantics. It’s not exaggerated and it’s not said for dramatic effect.

That’s not something I can prove to anyone who doesn’t experience racial profiling firsthand. And by firsthand, I mean you being on the receiving end of being racially profiled, not you driving around with your black friend. For more on the matter, I suggest tracking and comparing the 140 character anecdotes found in the hashtags #Alivewhileblack and #Crimingwhilewhite on Twitter. For my grandmother, however, her scolding didn’t go past that one scolding sentence. It would take the next several years for me to unpack and fully understand her policing of my brother, cousin, and me that day.

But, are these lessons in respectability useful for children of color to learn?

Consider, for instance, that despite being a college-educated and god-fearing man, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was targeted and, ultimately, killed because of his race.

But, similarly in the way that young girls and women are taught not to wear revealing clothing in order to prevent a rape from being committed against them, children of color are taught the world over various ways in which we should prevent the acts of racism that are committed against us. Through an intersectional lens, consider then the gender and race-specific respectability politics that are taught to a black girl, woman, or female-identified person throughout their years in order to prevent sexual assault, sexism, and racism from plaguing their lives.

Finally, I’d like to note that this essay and similar sentiments made in other conversations or mediums (such as the scene in Scandal during which Papa Pope reminds Olivia of his instructions that she herself must be “twice as good to get half of what they have”), are not made to express that individual white children don’t face hardships or that they don’t learn difficult lessons from a young age.

White supremacy makes way for terms like “white trash,” a term that suggests that a white person who is poor, illiterate, “country,” or perhaps mentally ill, etc. is an atypical white person. The “white” in “white trash” is used to denote that this person is unusual for the white race.

However, it is important to note that these lessons in respectability politics and survival that are taught to young people of color may not be enough to save us from the violence.

I look inward, having reflected on my upbringing and understand my mother and grandmother’s version of resistance but look outward in wondering, “What other forms of resistance can we teach young people of color to thwart the racist, sexist, and suicidal dragon?”

At this time of national turmoil and unrest, it is my deepest regret that I do not, in fact, know.

Jasmine Rose-Olesco wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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The Organic Food Movement Is an Insufferably Classist Waste of Money

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Why must we feed this obsession and give up common sense and taste?

I am 47. I say this for reference. Correction: more as an admonishment. I grew up in the 1980s, the decade of big hair and bigger shoulder pads. In short, a time when excess and indulgence were still cool. That being said, indulge me. Here goes:

I hate the whole organic food movement. Notice I said “movement,” because it is the mindset that is perverse and insufferable.

My hatred stems from the fact that this trend is a repudiation of my own working class background. Eating organic is eating more expensively and, in my opinion, often unnecessarily.

Just this morning as I was drinking my morning coffee with milk (more on this later), I almost choked when I saw the latest report on “Good Morning America.” The “next big super drink” sweeping the country in 2015, according to GMA, is organic birch tree water. The water is actually the sap from birch trees tapped in early spring. Sounds very pastoral, almost nostalgic of a simpler era, something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Think again.

A quick search with Amazon suppliers indicates that this tree sap is like liquid gold. It is hard to come by, except if you happen to be a native of a Slavic country. A case of this forest juice, which equates to 10 bottles, is $24.95 — without shipping. Give me my store-brand bottled water or, better yet, water that comes out of my kitchen faucet.

I do not think it is wise to have to budget for simple hydration. Can you say fad? Remember coconut water?

People who eat primarily organic are the same hipsters who make their little ones toil in community gardens after picking them up from child care cooperatives. What they can’t harvest, they buy in small shops that sell two dozen kinds of honey, and enough soy and tofu to choke a cow.

I don’t know about you, but the only time I ever had honey as a kid was when I was sick. It was added to my mug of Lipton tea and came out of a little golden bear-shaped squeeze bottle. (And in my budget challenged household, we re-used the tea bag.)

And as for cows, they are regarded as one moo short of pure evil by people who fear the possibility they may be treated with antibodies or growth hormones and steroids. The organic foodies raise children who may never experience the lush, velvety feel of a milk mustache. Instead, they get the flat, chalky aftertaste of some almond-based alternative milk product.

Rather than dunk Oreos rich with refined sugars, they wash down carob biscuits baked with agave.

I am not going to argue the health benefits of an organic diet. Medical studies come and go, but there is no conclusive evidence which says eating organic is eating more nutritiously. And the verdict is still out on taste differences. Although those who have tried birch tree water say it is an “acquired taste,” and have likened it to flavored medicine. Yummy.

I fear, however, that some of these all natural choices (all the friggin’ time) are leading us down a strange path.

Let’s face it: When you remove “bad calories,” and “unnatural additives,” you cut out the fun, and not trim it either. Ask any person on a diet if they are happy. But at least on a diet there are cheat days.

The comforting lethargy that follows a big dish of processed macaroni and cheese (made with the little envelope of bright yellow powder) is never experienced by organic foodies or their progeny. Instead of lolling on the couch, they are busy reading labels to determine if what they ingest is locally sourced. I like farmers as much as the next person, but as a city gal, agriculture was never my strong point.

In fact, part of the expense of organic products is the extra inspection and certification by government agencies. This cost to the producers is passed down to consumers. The organic foodies are ever vigilant that their foods are not produced by methods that employ chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Granted, poisons in the food chain should be avoided. It is not like I aspire to be first on the toxic food line.

But I have to confess that the adage, what you don’t know, won’t hurt you has served me well.

There is even organic food in the marketplace for our family pets. Funny, I don’t have a desire to spend more to feed my own three beloved dogs and feel good about myself as a pet parent. I would rather donate the money to an animal shelter.

There is a superiority among the organic foodies and a class distinction that goes beyond pure consumerism. I might be sensitive about my blue-collar upbringing, but digging deeper in your pocket does not mean you are spending wisely.

People who shop in supermarkets, buy in bulk, or clip coupons are not discriminatory, well-informed, or hip enough to live in the same neighborhoods for many organic foodies. Organic food, which has earned prime shelf space, is muscling out some of the less expensive choices, and is making it harder to stretch a dollar.

In short, my own dad, who was a bus driver, could never have afforded the lifestyle enjoyed by these purists. In my day, eating TV dinners and canned foods was good enough. Blissful ignorance? Maybe.

I might have evolved to the point where I prefer fresh (or at least frozen) produce over canned varieties, and meat from a butcher rather than a plastic tray. I have been known to avoid any packaging that has more than three polysyllabic ingredients that I cannot pronounce.

But don’t take away my Oreos.

Andrea Della Monica wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: A Guide to What Kind of Eggs You Should Buy

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Local News Anchor Announces ALS Diagnosis and Retires in Touching Broadcast

After almost 40 years, Larry Stogner told viewers, "We have to stop meeting this way"

When longtime North Carolina news anchor Larry Stogner participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge last summer, he didn’t yet know that he was one of the 30,000 Americans who suffer from the neurological disease.

“I am sure that in recent months, you’ve noticed a change in my voice, my speech slower,” the anchor at ABC affiliate WTVD said in a touching broadcast last Friday. “Many of you were kind enough to email me ideas about what it might be, or just to show concern, and I truly appreciate that. As it turns out, I have ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

After almost four decades reporting the news, Stogner announced his retirement, telling viewers, “We have to stop meeting this way.”

After a vacation with his wife, Stogner will be back in two weeks to talk on-air with his colleagues and say a more formal goodbye.

Read next: Here’s What’s Happening With the Ice Bucket Challenge Money

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Here’s a Closer Look at the ‘Snowmenclature’ People Are Using

Literal is so hot right now

Every great blizzard that hits the U.S. sends people running to the grocery store to stockpile canned goods and, in recent years, to their keyboards for rampant hashtagging. As snow hit the Northeast on Monday and Tuesday, social media was rife with references to the #snowicane, the #snowjam and the #snownado.

TIME partnered with Hashtracking to find out which trending hashtags were getting the most traction on Twitter, as New York residents geared up for chaos that never really hit and New Englanders battened down the hatches. The results are in: The top hashtag for tweeting about the storm is the quite literal #blizzardof2015. (You can get a closer look at the chart here.)

Chart complied by Hashtracking

But, as with many competitions, the winners aren’t as interesting as the losers. Juno, the green line above in a solid third place, is the name for the storm chosen by the Weather Channel. That cable network decided two years ago that it would start giving names to winter storms like the government does for hurricanes, a move many saw as a branding “ploy”.

The government hasn’t endorsed the Weather Channel’s names and doesn’t name winter storms itself because snowstorms are more frequent and more ambiguous than events like hurricanes. The network has said its aim is to make people more aware of such events, but it appears that people prefer to orient themselves with the more straightforward #blizzardof2015 than the more arbitrary #Juno.

That unpoetic hashtag has also trumped the long-dominant blizzard-time puns #snowmageddon and #snowpocalypse. This blizzard may mark the first time some people are hearing this duo of “portmansnows”—as Stanford University linguist Arnold Zwicky dubbed them—but they have been around for at least a decade. And they may finally have reached a point of exposure where they’re on the way out.

Ben Zimmer, executive editor at Vocabulary.com, found evidence of bloggers using this “snowmenclature” when storms hit the U.S. in 2005. But, he says, they didn’t really blow up until Twitter had taken hold in 2010. Even President Barack Obama was on board that year. “Hashtags lend themselves to this play with blended words,” Zimmer says. “And a successful blend, one people recognize and understand, is one where the parts are obvious at first glance, like snowmageddon.”

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

Clearly snowmageddon is a blend of the white precipitation commonly known as snow and Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil that leaves the earth in ashes—just as snowpocalypse is a blend of snow and apocalypse, a last catastrophe that marks the end of the world.

But what really makes these words irresistible (at least for a while) is the nature of the events that inspired them. As Zimmer says, “It makes you feel like you’re in a disaster movie.” And what’s the best part of a huge snowstorm or a zombie takeover that leaves 10 newly acquainted survivors huddled in a farmhouse? The same thing. There’s a suspension of the rules. You’re expected to figure things out for yourself and you get to do things you wouldn’t on any regular day. Walking right down the middle of what is usually a busy street is a thrilling little treat, whether everybody’s dead or everybody’s cars are stuck in their driveways.

Just like those survivors in the farmhouse, there is also a sudden solidarity among everyone who is having their normal lives upended. “There’s something kind of exciting and it kind of draws everybody together,” says Tom Skilling, top weather broadcaster for WGN in Chicago. “‘We’re about to go through this as a group and if we all deal with this together, we’ll get through this.’ Major weather events affect everybody, all ages, all demographic groups. And if it doesn’t happen too often, there’s a drawing together that goes on.”

That said, Skilling is not a big fan of these “gimmicky” words. He’s more of a #blizzardof2015 kind of guy. The fact that they’re so hyperbolic—clearly no one is taking a snowstorm as seriously as an apocalypse—makes them playful. And the fact that they’re playful might lead to people not taking dangerous weather events as seriously as they should, he says. “You’re dealing with an event in nature that really does have great consequence,” he says. “Sometimes we’re better off just dealing with facts.” (Then Skilling apologizes for being a killjoy.)

Here is a short selection of puns and plays on words the people are using to get themselves through this cold, dark time.

#snowbomb
#snowboken
#SnowCountryForOldMen
#SnowEndInSight
#snowghazi
#snowgate
#snowicane
#snowjam
#snowjob
#snowku (for haikus about the storm)
#snowlarvortex
#snowmageddon
#snownado
#SnowtoriousRex
#snowwhat

(Feel free to tweet the author with other puns to add.)

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