Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Wider Reading | Speak2Tweet: Google Supports Free Speech In Egypt, In A Cheeky Carefree Rapscallionish Sort Of Way

Geoffrey Rush, as promised. AKA the coolest thing in Elizabeth.

A few press statements concerning machines. The first is from Vodaphone, when the Egyptian government shut down mobile phone communications. It's a sort of on-the-fence shrug; the final clause indicating, very, very delicately that maybe Vodaphone would prefer this sort of thing not to happen, but that it's not really their business to interfere, and that, practically speaking, there's nothing that can be done. Not that I'm comparing it to the US reaction or our reaction here in the UK or anything. Less still the Foreign Office's 'wait-and-see' policy in Yes, Prime Minister to say that they can't do anything until it's too late to do anything, then admit that something could have been done but that it can't now, in fact, be done. Anyway, the quote.

"Under Egyptian legislation, the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it."

Their second statement, made when service was resumed, is almost masterful in its wording; the implication being that Vodaphone were right to close down their mobile networks in Egypt, because had they resisted, the government would have closed them down manually and prevented them from bringing back the power of communication to the people for quite some time. So, if you think about it, they were the good guys, applying softer pressure from within the system rather than standing against it. Oh, Vodaphone, you brave little Schindlers!

"We would like to make it clear that the authorities in Egypt have the technical capability to close our network, and if they had done so it would have taken much longer to restore services to our customers."

The third statement came on Monday night from Google, announcing a new method of communication. In essence, it's that bit in A Knight's Tale where Heath Ledger's having veg pelted at him in the stocks. Then James Purefoy turns up as the Black Prince and announces dramatically that Heath Ledger's actually a knight and must be set free and given a chance to joust the baddie a second time and a happy ending and everything, after which he gives Heath Ledger a cheeky grin and a wink and starts very obviously rooting for him in the joust. You have absolutely no idea why this immensely powerful figure turns up and comes through for the underdog hero. It could be an ethical thing; or it could be just that he doesn't give a shit about offending anyone and he's too much of a softie not to root for the little guy, regardless of the knock-on effects of introducing social mobility very suddenly into the feudal system.

Observe the cheeky grin and the wink that accompanies this statement of obvious neutrality and business-like detachment. God, it might as well be whistling nonchalantly.

"Like many people we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground. Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service—the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.

We worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter, Google and SayNow, a company we acquired last week, to make this idea a reality. It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to twitter.com/speak2tweet.

We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time. Our thoughts are with everyone there."

What the...Google, you've absolutely no right to go around idealistically sticking up for freedom of speech with a cheery disregard for the practical consequences. Less still to mimic the carefree jargon of a group-buying site ("Glued to the news", indeed!) while pretending your action has no political implications whatsoever. You're meant to be the oppressive internet baddie who swallows competitors whole, advertises sexy adult webcam pop-ups and spends your weekends torturing Bing with electrodes in a basement. And Twitter, Google, and SayNow working together? Like the Justice League?

Actually, scratch that previous thought about James Purefoy. This absurd situation is more like the bit in a movie or TV series where the old baddie has been supplanted by a new, more ruthless, more powerful baddie. And there's 40 minutes until the end and the goodies are arguing about how their situation's hopeless. And they hear from off-screen something like, "Hopeless, eh? Perhaps I can help." And they turn around and there's the old baddie, grinning at them in the doorway. So, after some token scenes where they shout at each other about how they can't trust him, they all team up and save the day together. Huzzah!

Yes, you heard me right. Google is Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean.

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