This blog is a part of RP’s new media and technology for social change series, in anticipation of our new film WEB.
In the last few weeks I have read numerous stories about how social media is being used against protesters in the Middle East and Africa, so I thought it would be interesting to share these examples of the dark side of the Internet, just in case you missed them. But being the eternal optimist, there have also been some amazing uses of new and social media that are worth sharing. So here is your roundup of the dark and light sides of the Internet!
THE DARK SIDE
Uganda: Earlier this month the Uganda government asked the regional Internet Service Providers to block access to Facebook and Twitter, as protesters started employing the hashtag #walktowork as part of their protest against the riding food and fuel prices. Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of the Ugandan Communications Commission, said to Reuters that the blame for the violence in Uganda lies squarely in the laps of Twitter and Facebook as a vehicle for allowing mass law-breaking. Ridiculous.
Syria: I can almost (ALMOST!) respect the government for getting creative with their retaliation. First, the Syrian intelligence agency set up fake accounts on Twitter (known as Twitter Eggs) that threatened and insulted anyone criticizing the government, or tweeting in support of the protests. THEN various spam accounts were created to automatically send out Syria loving and random topic tweets every few minutes with the hastag #syria, so to dilute the conversation about the protests. You can view these accounts here.
Ivory Coast: Earlier this year, the country was in deep political turmoil as Laurent Gbagbo refused to abdicate his position as president after losing the election. Displaced persons across the country used the Twitter hastag #civ2010 to locate family members, get news updates and seek humanitarian aid and clean water. But then others started using the hastag to spread messages of hate and it essentially turned into a forum for various hate groups to verbally abuse each other online, again diluting the tweet stream. A new twitter hashtag (#civsocial) was created by the community to replace #civ2010.
Cameroon: President Paul Biya tried to get ahead of the game and prevent protests that might be inspired by neighboring countries, by shutting off mobile Twitter. Which only drew more attention to the tool! As blogger Dibussi Tande noted “…even though Twitter played a prominent role in informing the world of what was happening in Cameroon, over 95% of the tweets which the international media relied on for updates did not originate from within Cameroon. It was information obtained via mobile phones, regular SMS and email which ended up on Twitter and not real-time tweets from activists on the ground. Thus, banning the Twitter short code does little to change the balance of power online.”
U.A.E: The United Arab Emirates are getting even more ahead of the game. Their Telecommunications Regulatory Authority released plans to limit access to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server system to large-scale organizations, meaning smaller businesses and organizations would need to rely on a less-secure system that is easier for authorities to monitor in the hopes of preventing an uprising. This is also very likely to also be applied to all smart phones.
THE LIGHT SIDE
Rwanda: On May 5th, Rwandan President Paul Kagame will be the first African leader to be interviewed on YouTube, through their WorldView program which launched in January of this year. Although, since December of last year he has been a twitter machine! So you could probably ask him anything on twitter and he will likely respond.
Saudi Arabia: With protests and revolutions happening in countries all across the Middle East and Africa, women in Saudi Arabia are taking this opportunity to get their voices heard and try to gain the right to vote. A statement was released in March, followed by a Facebook page and a twitter hashtag, #saudiwomenrevolution. Unfortunately the media is paying very little attention. Until today I could find only a few stories about the group of women who attempted to register to vote last week. Their applications were denied.
Chile and Hungry: Hungarian doctor, Bertalan Mesko (@berci), and Chilean Nurse, Cristina Bizama (@cristi_enf), have both successfully used Twitter to help to save lives. Cristina tweeted that there was no way to transport ready organs to patients in need, and as word got out, the Health Minister jumped in to help make it happen. Dr. Mesko is using his twitter account to crowdsource medical opinions and information. For me, this just proves that everything on Grey’s Anatomy is true.
World: I recently learned about the website IndigenousTweeets.com , which was created by a computer professor at St. Louis University. IndigenousTweets was created to not only monitor the number of languages on twitter (currently 71) but also to help protect these native languages and keep cultures alive. One of my favorite examples of how the Internet is being used to protect the uniqueness of culture.
By Tim Gauss
As Malcolm Gladwell – author of books such as The Tipping Point and Blink – finds himself at the forefront of numerous social media discussions, let us step back for a moment and focus on one of Gladwell’s erstwhile arguments. The idea that “incompetence is the kind of failure that results from not knowing enough about a problem. Expert failure –are the problems that result from knowing a lot about a problem.”
Last week I was afforded the opportunity to attend a lecture in which Gladwell established a series of examples and conditions under which the idea of miscalibration – a situation where there is a gap between how much we know and how much we think we know – can lead to catastrophic consequences. In essence, there are perils associated with the notion of overconfidence, even in a system where a person is fully equipped with all necessary tools to acquire what is perceived to be perfect information.
While this particular lecture was geared towards a visceral understanding of the financial crisis of 2007, I believe that if we extrapolate these basic ideals and apply them to current social injustices, we may find a degree to which overconfidence in shrewd business tactics, parallels miscalibrations of entire governments. In particular, I would like to establish a continuation of Bree’s Blog on the current involvement of France in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Or what Achille Mbembe, a Cameroon-born historian has stated in the New York Times, “a continuity in the management of Francafrique – this system of reciprocal corruption, which, since the end of colonial occupation, ties France to its African henchmen.”
Ivory Coast has found itself in a recent state of chaotic civil war. With political parties committing mass atrocities, France has positioned itself as the peacekeeper, using military force in arresting presidential candidate Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters in Abidjan.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been anything but shy about his foreign policy in dealing with Ivory Coast as well as pushing—with resilient fervor—for intervention in Libya. Although he has acted under mandate from the United Nations Security Council, Sarkozy has received criticism for his crude strategies in what some believe seems to mirror a French colonial past filled with dictated politics and reaped fiscal recompenses especially in African territories.
What is interesting however, is not Sarkozy’s actions in using military force to make possible the arrest of the defeated Gbagbo. Nor is it the atrocities Laurent Gbagbo has committed during his regime and against opponents with a refusal to agree to hold democratic elections. Rather, it is whether or not Sarkozy’s decisions were made with objectivity and humbleness in the face of all intel gathered. At the same time, we must examine how these actions will be viewed – largely by Ivory Coast civilians – and any potential ramifications that may develop as a result.
Cue Gladwell’s nagging voice of reason and warning: “mistakes of overconfidence are made by experts. Made by people running countries and governments and companies and armies. And those kinds of mistakes, REALLY REALLY matter.”
Has France acted with brash disregard for foreign diplomacy? I don’t have the answer and only time will tell as critics are lined up at both ends of the spectrum. What remains important – in all cases dealing with foreign invasion, genocide, financial ventures and all other social injustices – is whether or not those we put our trust in as experts or leaders, have instilled within them, some sort of humility that places overconfidence in check.
By Bree Barton
This week, I had the privilege of seeing The Last Survivor as a part of the Fight On For Darfur program at USC. It has been almost a year to the day since I saw the film in its entirety—at its festival debut in Dallas for the Dallas International Film Festival, April 2010.
When I saw the film a year ago, I was deeply moved. The film gripped me on many levels, both aesthetically and emotionally. I remember a patchwork of images and moments that spoke to me, to such an extent that I was moved to speak as well . . . hence why I approached one of the film’s two directors, Michael Pertnoy, afterwards to offer my services as a writer.
And here I am.
Seeing the film a year later, I remembered all the reasons it moved me. The artistry is evident; it’s gorgeously shot, exquisitely edited, and the four survivors’ stories are woven together like an elegant silk tapestry, each flowing seamlessly into the next. But of course the beauty of this film is in the stories it tells, and the lives it so poignantly captures. A year later, after learning more about Justin, Jacqueline, Hedi, and Adam—in fact I can proudly say I am now Facebook friends with two of them—I felt more connected to their stories, more personally involved. After the honor of writing about them, and detailing so many other stories for the RP blog, this issue feels nearer to me now than it did when I sat in a dark auditorium twelve months ago.
The first time I saw The Last Survivor, I cried at the injustice of the tragedies suffered by four strangers. The second time I saw it, I cried because it felt like those strangers had become my friends.
And therein lies the beauty of the film. Not to mention the work the RP team is doing in general. Because it is in this very sense of connection, this sense of “Hey—those people are just like me,” that the seeds of genocide prevention must be sown.
This idea seems all the more relevant as I’ve been reading about the Ivory Coast. On April 11th, former Ivorian President Gbagbo was finally arrested after four months of chaotic violence and civil war. Both France and the UN were involved in the arrest, and today, one week later, it appears that the country is inching slowly toward peace. But the scars are fresh: a massacre in Duekoue that killed 800 people; a drive-by shooting of peaceful women protestors; and over a million people who, fleeing the violence, are now displaced.
It is this last issue—the return of these displaced persons to their homes—that seems so relevant to me. Mark Hackett of Operation Broken Silence has been chronicling the series of events in his astute and thoughtful blog. Mark writes, “Another concern is the civilian population itself, particularly the one million who fled Abidjan alone. The jumble of neighborhoods which took sides in the conflict will soon, once again, be living next to one another. Some elements within these communities are also responsible for violence against opposing neighborhoods. Implementing justice in these areas, if it ever is implemented, will be no easy task.”
I cannot help but think of Jacqueline, who speaks in The Last Survivor about her neighbors—the very neighbors whose children she had played with, the very neighbors whose children her mother had fed dozens of times, and the very neighbors who, when the genocide started in Rwanda, rounded up Jacqueline’s entire family, took them to the river, and slaughtered them with machetes.
It is a frightening thing, what neighbors can be capable of. And how boundaries disintegrate the moment that people look at their fellow men and women and say, “No. They are not like us.”
The wounds in the Ivory Coast run deep, and as Hackett points out, no one is innocent. “Revenge killings could skyrocket,” he writes, “as troops loyal to either side could strike at civilian components of the original ‘other side.’”
Sides. Divisions. Loyalties. They all hinge on one thing: differences. Walls put up. Lines drawn. People defined by what and who they are not. And as long as these supposed differences continue to be inculcated, people will fail to see the ways in which we are exactly the same.
And so I think, more than ever, that a film like The Last Survivor has a vital place in the world. Because what directors Michael Pertnoy and Michael Kleiman have so beautifully depicted is the fact that these four brave, wonderful, extraordinary people are, in so many ways, people just like us. They could be us, and we could be them. And the day we accept that, the day we truly come to terms with what that means . . . the idea of “the last survivor” will move from hopeful theory into potent truth.