Herdict: A Potent Tool for Citizen Hactivists

As the debates around PIPA and SOPA approach their zenith with verdicts on both bills to be passed in January and February respectively, activists and website administrators around the world are already looking to new tools to manage government censorship of domain names.

One such tool that has been getting a lot of attention is the Berkman Center’s Herdict, a downtime aggregator that allows anybody around the world to report websites that are inaccessible and then provides collective data based on crowd sourced reports.

The brainchild of Harvard Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Herdict was launched as a ‘natural progression from the OpenNet Initiative’, aimed at shifting the predominantly academic engagement with Web censorship to a broader, citizen focused approach. This makes sense, since the largest stakeholders of Web censorship are often citizens on the ground, rather than academic analysts.

While general reports about Internet filtering, site censorship and freedom of speech online have been available in the recent past, these have been mostly macro-type reports from academic perspectives such as the Freedom House surveys. Herdict offers more granular analysis, offering detailed information about specific URL’s and country specific internet filtering behavior.

China, for example, has long been lambasted by the Freedom House surveys for its low indexes on Internet freedom. Herdict backs that up with a listing of the URL’s that have experienced the highest downtime, with sites like Tor (an online anonymity tool), Tibet. net (the official website of the Central Tibetan Administration) and Blogger.com taking the lead.

If the momentum behind the SOPA and PIPA bills are any proxy of global governmental moves toward Internet filtering, then Herdict may well prove to be a major facilitator of coordinated information sharing and data collection in oppressive regimes.

Incidentally, Professor Zittrain will be on campus next week, speaking at the Law School about Hacktivism initiatives in the coming year.

As an endnote, for those of you wondering about the name: Herdict is a” portmanteau of “herd” and “verdict” and came about as a project of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society and the OpenNet Initiative (ONI).”

Herdict aggregates information about individual websites from the Crowd.

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