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.
The Holstee Manifesto. Between Twitter, Tumblr, and the rest of the blogosphere, this has been posted over 60,000 times. Words to live by…
“Holstee began as a dream Mike, Dave and Fabian had to create a lifestyle for themselves – a lifestyle which reflects their manifesto. Holstee designs and curates with the hopes that each product and its inherent story inspires others to follow their dream. A closely knit community of fans has been growing around Holstee products, curated items, the music they listen to, and experiences they share.”
Check ‘em out: http://shop.holstee.com
Over and out,
But this one is worth your time.
The video below is an hour long Foreign Affairs discussion on the role of social media and technology in fostering political change, with Clay Shirky, Professor of New Media at New York University and the author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. Every piece of this was worth listening to.
Since we at Righteous Pictures spent some time this week brainstorming for our upcoming doc, WEB, this was a great discussion to get my brain juices flowing.
Please watch the video yourself, but if you don’t have an hour, below are the highlights.
Clay Shirky says that the power of the Internet (and mobile phones) empowers and mobilizes people in three ways:
1. It makes massive amounts of information quickly available
2. It provides amateur’s access to communication tools for speaking out
3. It allows groups to coordinate their activities rapidly.
We overestimate the Internet’s ability to give us access to endless information, and we underestimate it’s ability to connect humans to each other.
The key to supporting Internet freedom is not in reducing censorship of information, its about allowing for better group coordination by using these tools.
Social Media is NOT something that can be easily weaponized. (Umm could Al-Qaeda please get on Foursquare already??)
Anne-Marie Slaughter says that online tools and connective technologies allow people to
1. Synchronize opinions
2. Coordinate meet-ups
3. Document and share their results
Coordinating with weak ties through your Facebook “friends” does not create political change. It is using these tools to mobilize your strongest ties, the people who trust you, and in turn get them to mobilize their strongest ties.
The Internet Freedom Speech was the most important speech Anne-Marie says she worked on. In this speech the U.S. stated that everyone in the world should have:
1. The freedom to connect to the Internet itself
2. The freedom to connect to any information they want
3. The freedom to connect to PEOPLE.
Calling the events in the Middle East a “twitter revolution” is unhelpful and demeaning. It was the people behind these tools that facilitated change.
You cannot be a modern, working country without cell phones. And once you add cell phones, you are essentially handing people access to information, connection and freedom.
The amplification of Libyan voices made the events impossible to ignore, BUT it wasn’t until there was physical threat that other countries intervened. Pictures, videos and testimonials posted online just helped facilitate that. Unfortunately, crimes against humanity are being committed in areas where there isn’t as much connectivity and we may not know about them until it too late. It is a tragic effect of the digital divide.
Which begs the question…as information technology spreads, are we will likely to see more atrocities, and if so will we do MORE interventions?
According to Anne-Marie, the answer is yes. Libya has set a precedent in some senses. Clay chimed in saying that we should wait to see how it turns out to see if a precedent for intervening has been set.
While connective technologies have allowed individuals and groups with no formal affiliation or organization to coordinate and support one mission, such as overthrowing the Egyptian government, it creates a new problem. The leaders of the revolution are not of one ideology. So in the 21st century we are seeing what happens when a government is overthrown and there is no new government (which in the past has been the leaders of the revolution) ready to step in.
I think the most important thing we all need to remember is that the Internet has allowed for the creation of TOOLS. And it is the HUMAN use of these tools that has sparked the revolutions. As Clay said, it was the educated, underemployed, angry, repressed in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya that used these TOOLS to pursue deeply held political goals. Not Twitter, and not Facebook.
What do you think?