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2nd Lockdown - Day 42 - On Digital Publishing and Cream Cheese


Why is it, I ask myself, that I am still writing this “lockdown blog” when so many amongst us are back at work? It is hard work and, all the while, that bit of veld that pretends to be a lawn out back needs the brush-cutter. 

In addition, four other LALIT members are in a queue behind me to check the blog and up-load it, translate it, check the translation and up-load that. But who for? Who will be reading it now? It was designed to see us through the isolation of the lockdown -- together. And to remind us that, in the most severe parts of lockdown, the nurses, doctors, ambulance teams and orderlies, electricity and water workers, firemen and police officers, rubbish collectors and distributers of food and other basics, were often doing twice the amount of work they usually do while we were doing nothing work-wise. So the blog’s aim to perhaps help link all working people, whether working or not. A digital link. But better than nothing. But, now, why do I write it?

Even though we have found out finally that “number of WAPs” is not equal to “number of people” – what with domestic workers having up to five WAPs, and many other workers having two or three, and what with bosses “ordering WAPs” by the batch – it is nevertheless true that most working people are no longer confined to barracks. So, I write the blog mainly for the other half of us – those under 18, or students not at school or university though over 18, for people without a job. I write it for pensioners allowed out only on specific days by alphabet. I write it for mothers cooped up with kids not back at school yet. And one neighbour says distillery workers, for example, work half-time, so I write for part-time workers, too. Like many hotel workers, though getting some pay each month from their boss’s hands though out of public funds, are not working full time. So we offer this blog to “everyone else” not out on a WAP, and still confined. Then, the others on WAPs can get to read the blog after work, as a bonus. 

And we publish in two places: on our website and on Facebook, one of the giant digital publishers. And Facebook – like Twitter, YouTube and other digital publishers – is under scrutiny world-wide. The giant companies that run these digital publishing houses have become stronger than nation-states. An earlier blog wrote about the whistleblower’s book on Cambridge Analytica’s tampering with Brexit, US elections and many third world elections. 

Even the US Congress and the EU and the Australian State are all having difficulty reining these companies in – whether for taxes (they tend to pay none or next-to-none), or for civil and criminal liability for what they publish, if it is harmful or illegal. Remember they make profits out of publishing whatever they publish. 

Right now, in the US, both Republicans and Democrats have any number of Federal Bills in progress – so many it was hard to prepare this article. They all centre round what they call “Section 230”. It’s an Amendment to the Federal law “The Communications Decency Act” dating back to the 1930s. The Amendment, voted in 1996 and designed to give legal protection to very small young internet companies, reads: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” These are referred to as “the 26 words that have launched endless debates”. 

Now, in Mauritius, ICTA has leapt in where angels fear to tread. To show how fraught the subject is, and how little common understanding there is, ICTA yesterday had to issue a communiqué to say it was not referring to WhatsApp and Telegram, etc. but only to “social media” publishing companies. So, the debate clearly has a long way to go.

Some of Bills in the US go for straight repeal of the Section 230 shield from liability. So companies would, like all publishers, be liable for civil and criminal suits. Anyone could then sue, or go to the police against, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook – just as they can against the New York Times or L’Express – thus including digital publishing in the same legal framework as the long history of the publishing of newspapers. Other Bills have limited scope: prohibit using Section 230 to shield a company from liability for child sexual exploitation or civil rights infringements, or hate speech. A third kind of Bill creates a duty of care for the tech company concerned if it wishes to use the Section 230 shield from liability. A fourth kind try to avoid political bias or censorship, like Trump accuses Twitter of, when they closed his account. In all, I have quickly checked out 25 (repeat 25) such Bills right now in Congress – many bipartisan. No wonder they need the “ways and means” Committee to sort this out. Even academics specializing in this field are having difficulty keeping up.

This made me think I need light relief. So  I’ll tell you today about things I’ve learnt in my family about kefir during confinement. Remember I told you I had started keeping this yogurt at the end of December, giving it milk every day, and looking after it in a cupboard. And I said how you can drink it with honey, make a long drink of lassi with water and ice, or pour it on fruit with psyllium husks (recipe given by Kisna in Kreol version only – so far). And that it’s used in biryani. Well since then, I’ve also made cream cheese. Just pour a bit of the kefir every day into a muslin cloth tied around the mouth of a jar, and let it drain, standing in the fridge. Add a bit for 5 or 6 days. The watery part drains through the cloth, and you’re left with cream cheese one day later. Just add salt, honey and chives or parsley or both – and a bit of crushed garlic. The biggest joy was, when I was going to toss out the watery part, thinking I’ll check out its many uses later, I offered it to the adolescent girl dogs, Lock and Down (paper names Lok and Dawn, in Kreol) and they just lapped it up like it was manna from heaven. Kisna also found that you can make cream (to put on an apple pie for example, that Ram baked yesterday) by adding powdered milk to a bit of the kefir.

Lindsey Collen