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Helping Quantify Online Controls

The magma guide launches the world’s first public framework for network interference research

Around the world, the use of information controls is on the rise. Yet as authoritarian regimes expand their means to censor and surveil online activities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ascertain the true extent and effect of their repressive efforts. More research is needed to quantify and combat these invasive forms of censorship and surveillance. But more research requires more researchers—and unfortunately, learning how to accurately conduct and decipher network measurements is difficult. For many would-be researchers, it’s hard to even know where to start.

Fortunately, that’s where the magma guide comes in—a user-friendly research framework for individuals looking to analyze information controls through network measurements.

Created by Vasilis Ververis with support from OTF’s Internet Freedom Fund, the magma guide is the first publicly available resource of its kind. The guide comes in an accessible how-to format helping new researchers better structure their activity plans, make informed tool choices (taking into account ethical and security aspects), and properly analyze the resulting data. The project seeks to shrink the knowledge gap required to start conducting information controls research, and it uses an open collaborative structure to allow users to distribute, modify, contribute, and review content. This allows the guide to stay as current as possible in an effort to keep pace with the constant evolution of Internet censorship techniques.

The guide begins with a general overview of the basics of Internet censorship research before walking new users through a series of relevant methodologies, measurements, and analyses. After reviewing all of the guide’s subsections, individuals will be able to create their own research plans and select the best tools and procedures required to perform their specific work. Critically, the content of the guide represents industry best practices, developed in consultation with networking researchers, activists, and technologists.

At the present time, the magma guide’s instructions are focused on OONI-based data analysis and network measurements. While these include some of the most well-known tools used to observe forms of network interference, others do exist. Magma’s creators therefore hope to expand the guide to include information related to other network measurements tools and software as well. If you or someone you know is able to provide such information, the creators ask that you reach out to them and contribute. The more contributions that are made, the stronger the framework will ultimately become.

Ready to start conducting your own information controls research? Click here!

Read more about OTF’s involvement with the magma guide here.

About the program: The Internet Freedom Fund is OTF's primary way to support projects and people working on open and accessible technology-centric projects that promote human rights, Internet freedom, open societies, and help advance inclusive and safe access to global communications networks for at-risk users including journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists, and every-day people living within repressive environments who wish to speak freely online. Through the Fund, OTF strives to uphold and increase capacity for individuals, organizations, and companies who support technology-centered efforts that aim to strengthen Internet freedom and promote human rights by circumventing repressive censorship and surveillance, improving related digital security capabilities, and contributing to the overall health of the Internet. Learn more about the program and apply here.

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