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MINDS’ CEO: Protect Free Speech, Will Only Respond to U.S Subpoenas

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BILL OTTMAN. Photo credits: TECHCRUNCH & MINDS.

In the past few days, thousands of social media users in Vietnam have relocated to Minds. At the same time, debates erupted where people questioned Minds’ technology, policies, and even the possibilities that Minds would cooperate with the Vietnamese authorities in the future to “sell out” its users.

Luật Khoa magazine had conducted this interview with Bill Ottman – CEO and co-founder of Minds in response to the concerns mentioned above from the Vietnamese social media community. We are providing our readers with the English version of the interview here.

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Before this “exodus” of Vietnamese Internet users to Minds, what do you know about Vietnam? (the regime, the economy, the market, human rights situations, etc.)

Vietnam is a beautiful country but unfortunately run by the Socialist Republic, a communist regime with overreaching power. I studied the Vietnam War pretty extensively and the anti-war movement in the US. I would very much like to learn more about Vietnam Pham Doan Trang, and it would be great to have a live conversation or stream together to discuss your perception of the country, both negatives and positives.

What do you think of the newly-adopted cybersecurity law in Vietnam?

I know that the law has disastrous implications for free speech and privacy. It gives the government excessive power to deem certain content ‘prohibited’, thus the ability to become a censorship machine. The law should be taken away before it goes into effect in 2019. It is destined to fail.

What is Minds’ policy toward customers’ privacy rights?

Please refer to our recent essay on how we protect user privacy. We are 100% committed to privacy. It is our core philosophy. Principles like ‘zero-knowledge’, end-to-end encryption and decentralization are all crucial for human rights. Our terms state that we comply with US law. If it is legal in the US it can be on Minds. We will not hand over user information to foreign governments or censor based on requests.

What is Minds’ policy toward the balance between privacy rights and “public security” as the police in authoritarian societies put it?

Public security is an Orwellian phrase similar to National Security. More privacy and encryption make a nation more secure, not less. More freedom of expression causes a healthy society, not less. Disinformation and propaganda are problems, but research shows that censorship makes these problems even worse. I recently wrote an article about this evidence. This has been proven by top cryptologists and cyber-security experts for a long time like Bruce Schneier and EFF.

What is your opinion regarding the need to balance the people’s human rights and the state’s efforts against terrorism (both real threats and some imaginable threats)?

Our general policy is that we require a warrant or equally compelled court order. Our general opinion is not to sacrifice freedom for safety because then we will have neither as Benjamin Franklin said.

How can we, the Vietnamese Mindsers, as a newly-formed (and maybe, quite small now) community be sure that Minds will fight for our Internet freedom rather than cooperate with the tyrannical government?

Continually ask questions, communicate with our team about concerns and hold us accountable!

Inspect our code and have your developers help us make it more secure and uncensorable.

We heard a lot about the technologies that Minds has been using. Is it true that Minds has been using decentralized, encrypted, and blockchain technologies? If yes, please describe them a little so that we the users learn more about your strength. If no, could you please tell me the difference(s) between Minds and Facebook?

Yes, we are constantly working to become more decentralized which is why we are currently leveraging technologies like Ethereum and Webtorrent. We will be focusing much more on decentralization and p2p in the future.

Facebook is plagued by surveillance, secrecy (proprietary software), manipulative algorithms, data scandals, demonetization, censorship and psychological abuse. Minds does the opposite.

Regarding blockchain, it seems like Minds is now using it only for Token-related activities. Is that right?

Yes. We use an ERC20 token on the Ethereum blockchain. Our whitepaper discusses how we publish a variety of transactions to smart contracts for our Boost and Wire products. We have an extensive reward system where top contributors earn tokens and can then use the tokens to “Boost” content for more views.

Right now 1 token gives 1,000 extra views on the content of your choice. We built this in reaction to the suppressive algorithms on facebook which diminish your organic reach and voice. It is a soft form of censorship. Minds will always have 100% organic reach and reward users with more of a voice for participation. The reward system specs can be found here.

Sorry for asking what seems like a silly question, but why did Minds create the Tokens system? What do you anticipate it to be?

We created the token in order to reward users for the contributions to the network and move the ad network (consent-based) and peer-to-peer payment and crowdfunding systems to smart contracts on the blockchain. We also created it to battle the restrictive algorithms that have caused organic reach to drop so much on facebook. 1 token currently rewards a user with 1,000 extra impressions on their content by pressing the boost button on their post. We believe people’s voices should be amplified, not silenced. Expanded, not exploited.

We saw a paragraph in Minds’ privacy policy which states that Minds “discloses potentially personally identifying and personally-identifying information only in response to a subpoena, court order or OTHER GOVERNMENTAL REQUEST [capital mine], or when Minds believes in good faith that disclosure is reasonably necessary to protect the property or rights of Minds, third parties or the public at large.” We are quite concerned about this because it implies that we the users can still have our personal information accessed by the government while the current Vietnamese government is a single-party, police-dominated one. What do you think?

This does not apply to the Vietnamese government, and we will not hand over personal information to them. We will discuss with our legal team to potentially clarify this language. Essentially, we are founded upon the idea of free expression, and as you will quickly learn, Minds is more uncensored than any other network you will find.

Is it true that Minds receives some support from the Anonymous?

Yes, because we allow anonymous accounts. Though anonymous is a decentralized, leaderless group, so it has many branches and I would not want to speak for them all. I imagine not all support us, but some definitely do.

We only endorse ethical hacking, as a side-note.

What does Minds expect from Vietnam, or the community of Vietnamese Minders to be exact?

We hope more thought leaders and netizens will continue to migrate to Minds for Internet freedom. We are dedicated to constantly evolving and improving the platform based on your feedback. This is why we are 100% open source.

The best way to build the freedom network of the future is for influencers to use our tools like blogs, videos, posting, groups, wallet, tokens and bring their audiences over.

Do you think of setting up a representative office in Vietnam and/or providing a Vietnamese version of Minds for the Vietnamese people? (English is not our second language, so most people may find it difficult to use Minds in English).

Yes, this (the Vietnamese version) will be live within a couple of weeks. 🙂 Maybe sooner.

What is Minds’ strategy regarding China and Asia, Vietnam included and also your worldwide strategy?

Our strategy is to stick to our principles, continue building better tools and hopefully continue to connect with thought leaders all throughout Asia who can help migrate their audiences off of surveillance platforms.

Can you tell us a bit more about your internet activism?

I have been involved in alternative media, freedom of information and privacy activism for about a decade. To me, extreme transparency, open source philosophy, end-to-end encryption and digital rights are crucial for a free society. I helped start organizations on Facebook with millions of followers, but after Facebook’s algorithm and policies got so invasive, it was time to #deletefacebook.

What is your opinion regarding the trend of large corporations acting in concert with the state/government to become one unified threat to the people’s rights in places like Vietnam?

This is an unacceptable trend when the line between global corporation and government merges. The people need to activate on other social networks in order to disempower the corrupt corporations and empower emerging, ethical alternatives.

Press Release

The Vietnamese: On Our Second Anniversary

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On November 8, 2017, the editorial board of The Vietnamese launched our website with only one purpose: to bring more information on human rights and the political situation in Vietnam to the international audience.

Two years ago, we realized that foreigners don’t really understand Vietnam and that that they don’t know what Vietnam’s politics are really like. They may not know that the sunny and relaxed place of tourism in the tropics has been controlled by a single political party for more than seven decades in the North and for more than 40 years in the whole of the country. The Vietnamese people live under an authoritarian state and so have no free and fair elections. They do not elect any of the leaders of their country because those leaders are selected behind closed doors by the Vietnamese Communist Party. Vietnam’s government is the type of regime that the Umbrella Movement was trying to avoid for Hong Kong people in 2014 when protests broke out.

As democracy activists, it has been a bit mind-boggling for us to see the world wholeheartedly support the rights of the people of  Hong Kong but while just giving a pass to us Vietnamese – a people who also believe in democracy – who continue to suffer under an authoritarian regime.

It was then that we decided that we needed to write in English about Vietnam. We felt a need to bring the stories and the lives of those who suffer when their human rights are being violated by the state and to make these stories more widely seen within international communities.

For two years, we have been working mostly voluntarily to bring forward our magazine’s objectives. More importantly, we have brought out the stories of our people and our human rights activists to the world. It has been two years with not a lot of financial support, but it was also two years in which we received tremendous human resources for free. We know that we are heading in the right direction when more people reach out and try to work with us when we have no means to pay them. We believe that they are happy to contribute because they understand that the world needs to hear our voices. The good news is that in 2019, we were successful in raising enough funds to pay for our freelancers and we hope that more writers will join us since we issued our call for more pitches one month ago.

We thank you, our readers, for your support and belief in us. We thank you and call on writers to walk with us and realize our goal to be a platform to advocate for each and every Vietnamese individual’s human rights and democracy. We call on all of you to share and raise your voices for our dreams, our visions, and to support our daily struggle for Vietnam to become a democratic country where the rule of law and human rights are respected.

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Press Release

The Vietnamese: Call for Pitches

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Dear Readers and Writers:

For the last five months, The Vietnamese has not been publishing regularly, something that you may have noticed. Our magazine was short on staff and it affected our publication. We are very sorry about any inconvenience it may have caused you. But here comes the good news. 

Starting in September 2019, we have been back and starting to use a new working scheme for our publication. Now we are reaching out to freelancers to submit pitches and work on articles to be published on our platform. 

As we have written in our mission statement for The Vietnamese, this magazine will be “a platform for each and every Vietnamese individual – who shares our dreams, our visions, and our daily struggles for a democratic country where the rule of law and human rights are respected – to raise their voice and bring their issues to the world stage.” 

We have probably also noticed some of the same issues as many of you, that Vietnam’s human rights situation and political scene were not being demonstrated as clearly as we want them to be on the world stage. Many of the critical issues that Vietnamese people care and are concerned about were not discussed in English writings. And now, this is the time that you can submit your pitches and start writing about what concerns Vietnamese people the most in terms of human rights, democracy, and political concerns.

Please be aware that as a magazine, The Vietnamese quite often does not publish very time-sensitive or breaking news. We decide on pitches at our weekly editorial meetings, and so it may take up to at least one week to respond to your pitch. Once we accept a pitch, it typically takes two weeks to one month before it is published as our editorial team is also made up of freelance and part-time staff, which may delay our response time. 

A few times a year, we will also be considering a specific call for pitches for certain themes and we will send out updates when there are such calls.

OUR RATES:

– US$200 for text (approximately 1,500 words for written pieces)

– US$200 for 7-10 minute (edited) video clips with English subtitles, US$150 for a recorded op-ed or interview. 

Invoices should be submitted after the article has been published on our website. We are committed to paying timely and promptly.

PITCH FORMAT:

Please answer all of these questions in an email to be sent to editor@thevietnamese.org or vi.tran@thevietnames.org. 

– What is your name?
– What section are you pitch to, is it written form  or video?
– What’s your idea? (Please be as specific as you can.)
– Who could you talk to or have access to?
– What makes this story interesting or insightful?
– When can you submit the first draft?
– Will you submit photographs with the article that you or another person has taken?
– Please provide any links to your previous published articles or videos.

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Press Release

Pham Doan Trang Received Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Awards

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Photo credits: RSF

On September 12, 2019, our editor Pham Doan Trang had received the Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Awards 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

Trang was not able to travel and received her award in person. Instead, our editor Trinh Huu Long and also the editor-in-chief for Luat Khoa magazine was representing Trang to accept it.

Being her colleagues, The Vietnamese magazine’s staff is delighted and honored that Doan Trang received the Impact award. We have all been inspired and moved by her tireless efforts – as she stated – to make sure that “journalism is not a crime anywhere in the world.” Together with her, we all work for Vietnam to soon be a democratic country.

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