Ushahidi, Social Media and Political Change in MENA
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Ushahidi, Social Media and Political Change in MENA

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  • Colleagues like Clay Shirky have written about the political power of social media. I’d like to talk about the political power of social media when it is mapped in near real time and shared widely on public websites.
  • The Ushahidi platform is increasingly used to map information generated by crowds in near-real time like the picture depicted above. Why is this important? Because live public maps can help synchronize shared awareness, an important catalyzing factor of social movements, according to JürgenHabermas. Recall Habermas’s treatise that “those who take on the tools of open expression become a public, and the presence of a synchronized public increasingly constrains un-democratic rulers while expanding the right of that public.”
  • Take this picture from the Iran elections taken over two years ago. It captures the kind of crowdsourcing I’m talking about. (And since 2009, millions of new smart phones, digital cameras and flip cams have ended up in the hands of ordinary individuals in hundreds of countries). We live in a world where entire crowds are are now beginning to collectively testify, collectively bear witness to events both large and small. This wired global civil society is a critical ingredient for democratic change. This global network is a new nervous system for our planet. We saw this nervous system pulse (in some synchrony) at an entirely unprecedented scale during the Arab Spring and now with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
  • Perhaps this new pulse is best summarized by an Egyptian activist earlier this yearBut these activists are also doing something else. They are not only turning to social media during times of upheaval, they are increasingly leveraging digital mapping technologies to live map democratic change and synchronize shared awareness.
  • We’ve seen this happen in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, the US and Syria, to name a fewIn the case of Syria, we also partnered with Amnesty International and Tomnod to comb through high-resolution satellite imagery for further evidence of mass human rights violations. Because there was so much imagery, we recruited hundreds of volunteers from around the world to crowdsource the analysis of this imagery.Shared, synchronized awareness, HabermasSecurity issues -> satellite imageryADD OCCUPY WS SCREEN SHOT!!
  • To be sure, mass media alone does not change people’s minds. Recall that political change is a two-step process, with the second—social step—being where political opinions are formed (Katz and Lazarsfeld 1955). “This is the step in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make a difference” (Shirky 2010).
  • We’ve seen this happen in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, the US and Syria, to name a fewIn the case of Syria, we also partnered with Amnesty International and Tomnod to comb through high-resolution satellite imagery for further evidence of mass human rights violations. Because there was so much imagery, we recruited hundreds of volunteers from around the world to crowdsource the analysis of this imagery.Shared, synchronized awareness, HabermasSecurity issues -> satellite imageryADD OCCUPY WS SCREEN SHOT!!
  • So we’ve talked about the use of digital mapping technologies for human rights monitoring and crisis response. What about election monitoring? Digital mapping technologies have also been used in dozens of elections around the world for independent, citizen-based election observation.
  • We’ve seen this happen in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, the US and Syria, to name a fewIn the case of Syria, we also partnered with Amnesty International and Tomnod to comb through high-resolution satellite imagery for further evidence of mass human rights violations. Because there was so much imagery, we recruited hundreds of volunteers from around the world to crowdsource the analysis of this imagery.Shared, synchronized awareness, HabermasSecurity issues -> satellite imageryADD OCCUPY WS SCREEN SHOT!!
  • 5
  • These same volunteers created this live crisis map for the United Nations earlier this year. In fact, it was the UN that asked the volunteer network for this support.
  • During the early days of the crisis in Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had very little information on the situation. So they asked us for a live map to help inform their situational awareness. (We set up the Ushahidi platform and began to map within hours of the request). Many other humanitarian organizations as well as the human rights groups and the ICC began to closely follow dthe map.
  • Our friends in Russia took this approach last summer during the massive Russian fires. Using the Ushahidi platform, they launched the most ambitious crowdsourcing exercise in the country’s history. Ordinary volunteers matched needs with offers for help, setting up their own call center in a volunteer’s living room in Russia. What is stunning about this use of the Ushahidi platform is that it showed very clearly how unprepared and useless the Russian government was. It showed the limitation of Russian statehood was and how well organized and capable ordinary citizens were. So whither the state? The Russian government tried to show it was in control by setting up webcams in several cities around the country showing that they were monitoring the situation. But what the use of the Ushahidi platform did in this context was monitor how worthless the state was.
  • Events start “overlapping” and clustering, ie, on several occasions we get two or more text messages from different numbers reporting the same event. And then a Tweet with similar information, for example. The crowdsourcing of crisis information allows us to triangulate and validate information thanks to the reporting coming from a myriad of sources in near real-time. This would hardly have been possible in the 1930s, which is what prompted my colleague Anand at the NYT to write an article on our work and ask, “Will the triangulated crisis map be regarded as the new draft of history?” They say that history is written by the winners, will future history be written by the crowd?
  • The Ushahidi platform enables a form of live-mapped “sousveillance,” which refers to the recording of an activity using portable personal technologies. In many respects, however, the use of Ushahidi goes beyond sousveillance in that it generates the possibility of “dataveillance” and a possible reversal of Bentham’s panopticon. “With postmodernity, the panopticon has been informationalized; what once was organized around hierarchical observation is now organized through decoding and recoding of information” (Lyon 2006). In Seeing Like a State, James Scott argues eloquently that this process of decoding and recoding was for centuries the sole privilege of the State. In contrast, the Ushahidi platform provides a participatory digital canvas for the public decoding, recoding of information and synchronization of said information. In other words, the platform serves to democratize dataveillance by crowdsourcing what was once the exclusive realm of the “security-informational complex.”In Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts published in 1990, James Scott distinguishes between public and hidden transcripts. The former describes the open, public interactions that take place between domina-tors and oppressed while hidden transcripts relate to the critique of power that “goes on offstage” and which the power elites cannot decode. This hidden transcript is comprised of the second step, social conversations, that Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) argue ultimately change political behavior. Scott writes that when the oppressed classes publicize this “hidden transcript”, they become conscious of its common status. Borrowing from Habermas, the oppressed thereby become a public and more importantly a synchronized public. In many ways, the Ushahidi platform is a vehicle by which the hidden transcript is collectively published and used to create shared awareness—thereby threatening to alter the balance of power between the oppressors and oppressed.The new dynamics that are enabled by “liberation technologies” like Ushahidi may enable a different form of democracy, one which arising from “the inability of electoral/representative politics to keep it promises [has thus] led to the development of indirect forms of democracy” (Rosanvallon 2008). More specifically, Rosanvallon indentifies three channels whereby civil society can hold the state accountable not just during elections but also between elections and independent of their results. “The first refers to the various means whereby citizens (or, more accurately, organizations of citizens) are able to monitor and publicize the behavior of elected and appointed rulers; the second to their capacity to mobilize resistance to specific policies, either before or after they have been selected; the third to the trend toward ‘juridification’ of politics [cf. dataveillance] when individuals or social groups use the courts and, especially, jury trials to bring delinquent politicians to judgment” (Schmitter 2008, PDF).These three phases correspond surprisingly well with the three waves of Ushahidi uses witnessed over the past three years. The first wave was reactive and documentary focused. The second was more pro-active and focused on action beyond documentation while the third seeks to capitalize on the first two to complete the rebalancing of power. Perhaps this final wave is the teleological purpose of the Ushahidi platform or What Technology Wants as per Kevin Kelly’s treatise. However, this third wave, the trend toward the “juridificaiton” of democracy bolstered by crowdsourced evidence that is live-mapped on a public Ushahidi platform, is today more a timid ripple than a tsunami of change reversing the all-seeing “panopticon”. A considerable amount of learning-by-doing remains to be done by those who wish to use the Ushahidi platform for impact beyond the first two phases of Rosanvallon’s democracy.
  • Perhaps this new pulse is best summarized by an Egyptian activist earlier this yearBut these activists are also doing something else. They are not only turning to social media during times of upheaval, they are increasingly leveraging digital mapping technologies to live map democratic change and synchronize shared awareness.
  • Ushahidi means witness or testimony in Swahili, we are an African nonprofit technology company that specializes in developing free and open source solutions for crowdsourcing and crowd-mapping. Our platform has been used in over 130 countries and we have added several new features to the technology as well, such as smart phone app integration. But why are technologies like Ushahidi important for 21st century democracy? Because as JuergenHabermas noted half century ago, those who take on the tools of open expression become a public and a synchronized public can pose constraints undemocratic rule. Live maps can help synchronize shared awareness. Some call this “sousveillance” or upward accountability, others call this digital democracy.
  • We’ve seen this happen in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, the US and Syria, to name a fewIn the case of Syria, we also partnered with Amnesty International and Tomnod to comb through high-resolution satellite imagery for further evidence of mass human rights violations. Because there was so much imagery, we recruited hundreds of volunteers from around the world to crowdsource the analysis of this imagery.Shared, synchronized awareness, HabermasSecurity issues -> satellite imageryADD OCCUPY WS SCREEN SHOT!!

Ushahidi, Social Media and Political Change in MENA Ushahidi, Social Media and Political Change in MENA Presentation Transcript

  • @PatrickMeier(Ushahidi/PhD)
  • “We use Facebook to scheduleprotests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world.”
  • Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton University
  • “Having a real-time map complete with satellite photos, of where everyone is at any onemoment is almost as good as having your own helicopter”
  • 700+ volunteers 70+countries www.CrisisMappers.nethttp://blog.StandbyTaskforce.com
  • Will the triangulated crisis map be regarded as the new first draft of history? -Anand, NYT