Tea and kittens deployed to defeat Daily Mail and Express

Browser add-on blocks “unpleasant” papers

A recent add-on for popular web browsers is claimed to help you avoid accidentally visiting the websites of the Daily Mail or Daily Express. With the new tool, if you click a link that would take you to one of those sites, you are instead redirected to a site featuring nothing but pictures of tea and kittens. Say hello to Kitten Block.

Browsing the internet can be a perilous activity at the best of times. Following hyperlinks - a vital ingredient in the success of the internet- used to be fairly straight-forward. Whether you saw a link to Argos or the BBC, you knew whither you were headed should you click that link.

But increasingly, particularly in the worlds of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, links are 'shortened'. A pointer is used to redirect you to the link in question, saving those all-important characters in an online world where brevity has become necessity rather than choice.

Twitter limits users to Tweets of no more than 140 characters, which helped to spawn a number of services that take the very long page addresses common on websites, and shortens them to something more manageable. Shortened, http://www.newstatesman.com/global-issues/2011/09/afghanistan-iraq-west-world becomes http://bit.ly/nwRw6l.

Both links take you to exactly the same page. That's great for brevity, but terrible for transparency. You no longer know, seeing only the Bit.ly link, where clicking it might take you.

Spammers, marketers and other ne'er-do-wells have exploited this 'trick', using the trust of the reader to get them to click a link in good faith, only to discover it takes them somewhere unexpected - the likely destinations being dodgy sites that are often pornographic or virus-ridden.

But a nifty add-on for Firefox, Chrome or Safari web browsers, called Kitten Block [https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/kitten-block/], promises to protect you from accidentally visiting at least two sites - The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. Instead, clicking on a link to one of those sites redirects you to www.teaandkittens.co.uk, a site built by technology journalist Tom Royal and featuring, you guessed it, tea and kittens.

Royal, who also built Kitten Block, explains:

"When using the internet in the UK it's almost impossible to avoid occasionally accessing the website of one or the other [Mail or Express], even if one finds their political and social outlook unpleasant or offensive. KittenBlock is designed to solve this problem. It performs one simple function: if the browser is directed to either website it will be redirected instead to a selection of photos from http://www.teaandkittens.co.uk."

In fact with web browsers such as Internet Explorer, it's possible to block sites [http://www.wikihow.com/Block-a-Website-in-Internet-Explorer-7] you would rather not visit using your browser's security settings. But while that will block those sites, it won't automatically give you tea and kittens instead.

So there you have it - the combined online might of Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond stopped in their tracks by tea and kittens.

Jason Stamper is technology correspondent of the New Statesman and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.