Social change takes trust. You trust the thought leaders of the movement, you trust some set of information around the issue, you trust those who work with you to support you and not to expose anyone to undue risk.
Social change also takes privacy. If you are really pushing boundaries, you are at risk - of physical violence, imprisonment, or worse. There's value in being very public in this space as well, but that doesn't mean there's not a stage where protecting yourself through some layer of privacy is a better plan.
Social change also takes voice - citizen media platforms, and use of existing social networking sites which already have global scale and the ability to amplify a message.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of bickering around privacy, pseudonymity, and social networks - Facebook naturally, but even Google Plus is blocking pseudonyms from using the site reliably. I got tired of re-hashing the very valuable differences between using one's own name, being completely anonymous, and using a pen name - a well-storied way of getting an idea out while saving one's own neck:
One of the sad truths that emerged at the Technology Salon on ICTs and M&E was that failure in development is rarely about the project performance, but about winning the next contract. This means that monitoring and evaluation is less about tracking and improving progress towards social change and more about weaving an advertising pitch.
This is not for a lack of frameworks, tools, mapping measurements against a theory of change, or even the need for more real-time data in development. It is about incentives. What is incentivized at the macro level is getting big numbers on the board and nice clean upwardly-trending graph lines. Micro-level incentives for filing reports to fill out the monitoring side of things focus on report filing as a requirement for salary payments or other basic carrot/stick-driven models. Neither of these actually encourage accurate, honest data, yet only with that accurate data can we remotely hope to tweak models and make improvements.
So, let's break monitoring apart from evaluation.
"We have access to your database which includes your employees information; e.g - Addresses, Names, Phone Numbers etc. - now if u assist the police, we _WILL_ make this information public and pass it onto rioters ... do you really want a bunch of angry youths on your employees doorsteps?"Obviously, that's not a very nice thing to do, particularly considering it's unlikely any of these employees had much to do with this decision in the first place. The lines are not quite as clear as one would like, though. All protests are messy, and it's rarely clear who is in the right. Many countries claim to be representative democracies of one flavor or another. If youth were protesting a regime in yet another Middle East/North African country, we would be globally shaming RIM/Blackberry for cavorting with the government. Of course, in the case of London, it seems to be more a gang of thugs and looters than a political statement. The challenge, of course, is that the technology vulnerabilities might be useful to authorities during a riot, but are also useful to authoritarian governments in squelching a revolution. Not unlike wikileaks, you don't get to pick and choose who benefits from the technology, or who is made vulnerable by it. Ashoka Changemakers is hosting a competition supported by Google to source innovative ideas in the Citizen Media space solving some of this tension around privacy, speech, and trust. There's some amazing thoughtwork in the space getting recorded at the Ashoka News and Knowledge blog. All of that is a long introduction to the better-late-than-never summary of the July ICT4D Meetup. You know that it's a good technology discussion when it turns into a people discussion, and so went our conversation around Online Activism after #ArabSpring : What's Next?. Our panelists discussed the strange role of being an Egyptian following along from abroad via social media, the roles of traditional and new media in civic engagement, and examples of online activism around the world, from Azerbaijan to Spain. The core topic we kept coming back to was that the excitement around new technologies was justified, social media is a tool, not a movement. So while a cat-and-mouse game around technology will likely continue, the core of any social change is the people involved, not whatever tools they are using. Check out the twitter stream here. Remember to join us online for future ICT4D meetups and get on the email list for ICT4Drinks!
So, I've been beating this drum for a while - oppressive governments are increasingly quick and intelligent in responding to protests that use mobile and new media to organize and get the word out. So, join us in July (http://www.meetup.com/intlrel-76/events/23103221/) to hear from an amazing panel and discuss the next steps in this cat and mouse game:
The Twitter Revolution. The Cellphone Revolution. The Facebook Revolution. While the "Arab Spring" uprisings succeed based on real-world organizing, protests and democracy-building, it's no secret that mobiles and social media provided tools to broadcast, coordinate and amplify these movements. Oppressive governments are responding both faster and smarter to these digital tools.
Please join our panel of experts discussing the role of online activism going forward. What are the next steps in information empowerment in a more hostile environment for online activism? What is the role of mobile and new media in affecting change in government, and what are the risks?
We will begin with a discussion by the panelists, then move into an open question and answer session. Afterwards, we'll transition to a happy hour at Circle Bistro.
Online Activism after #ArabSpring : What's Next?
A few weeks back, I saw this show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at the Woolly Mammoth. It's by Mike Daisey, and is a work of non-fiction, describing his experiences infiltrating electronics factories in China (read a bit about that at ABC News, and watch the embedded TechCrunch interview. It's playing in Seattle soon, and might come back to DC eventually. It is absolutely worth watching. It perfectly captures the Apple fanboy, and technology enthusiasts in general, and will have you howling with laughter at you see yourself in his portrayals of these characters. By the end, however, you may not want to touch your iPhone. Or buy one. Or consider the conditions under which it was made.
To add on to that, Apple just got named as the least green tech company by GreenPeace, focusing primarily on their coal-powered data centers. Facebook came in second, while Yahoo, Google and Amazon were praised for their use of clean energy.
A team led by a Libyan-American telecom executive has helped rebels hijack Col. Moammar Gadhafi's cellphone network and re-establish their own communications. The new network, first plotted on an airplane napkin and assembled with the help of oil-rich Arab nations, is giving more than two million Libyans their first connections to each other and the outside world after Col. Gadhafi cut off their telephone and Internet service about a month ago. That March cutoff had rebels waving flags to communicate on the battlefield. The new cellphone network, opened on April 2, has become the opposition's main tool for communicating from the front lines in the east and up the chain of command to rebel brass hundreds of miles away.