Mwenda Arrested in Kampala

Uganda's most important journalist was arrested on Saturday. Not a good sign. At least he was released on bail on Monday.

Rebekah has the roundup on GV...

Bloggers and independent media outlets in Uganda are reporting that three journalists and a photographer at The Independent, an opposition newspaper based in Kampala, have been arrested and that the paper's offices have been raided by Ugandan security forces. One of those arrested was Andrew Mwenda, who was previously charged with sedition for his coverage of the death of Sudanese vice president John Garang in 2005.



Hip Hop in Kitgum, Northern Uganda

If you happen to be in Kitgum, a small outpost town in northern Uganda, on Monday, go check out this concert. It's being put on by my friend Abramz Tekya, an amazingly energetic community organizer, and the illest break dancer south of Karuma Falls.


On Running Rising Voices

My friend David Sasaki, writes cogently about the challenge of running Rising Voices, a project that supports online media activists throughout the developing world. Money quote:

The most difficult challenge I’ve encountered so far with Rising Voices hasn’t been training new communities with little online experience how to effectively use new media tools like blogs, podcasts and video- and photo-sharing sites. Nope … that has turned out to be surprisingly easy...The most difficult challenge has been getting people to pay attention to the great content they’ve been producing.
One basic trait I've witnessed over and over again in global advocacy work is the profound difficulty in communicating 'empathy' for people you have never met in a place you have never seen. Perhaps the network public sphere, with its low cost of communication and multidirectional conversations nodes, can help change that. Perhaps it can not. At the very least, it can help connect people who are far away from the places they already care about.


My Talk on ICT and Public Diplomacy at Fletcher

Thanks to Mary for this blog post, which is also posted on I&D blog.

glam shot

Note: This post in the second in a series on a panel, entitled "ICT and Public Diplomacy" at the Edward R. Murrow 100th Anniversary Conference on public diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. The first post covered the presentation of Berkman fellow Ethan Zuckerman.

Joshua Goldstein is a master's candidate at the Fletcher School of Government, with a focus on Africa, and a research assistant for the Internet & Democracy Project. He begins with a plug for the Audio-Visual Club, a group of graduate students who meet at a bar down the street from the Fletcher School to discuss the intersection of public affairs and technology. Josh also mentions how his interest in technology began when he was part of a team using an Internet application to determine issues of land tenure in Uganda.

In December of 2007, the Kenyan elections occurred, pitting the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki against challenger Raila Odinga. When a winner was not immediately announced and Kenya fell into economic instability, technologies were used both by groups interested in promoting messages of hate as well as peace and reconciliation. One of the key groups of activists were Kenya's bloggers.

The Kenyan blogosphere has been active since 2003, one of the most active in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are over 400 blogs in the country although the national Internet penetration is less than 10%. From approximately December 25th to January 1st there was a media black-out in Kenya, making the role of blogs all the more critical to the collection and dissemination of information. Blogs like AfroMusing, Mentalacrobatics, and Mzalendo reported and posted photographs of the aftermath.

One of the most interesting technological outcomes of the crisis was a map mash-up called Ushahidi (witness) which allowed people on the ground in Kenya to send texts and video taken via cell phone, which appear on an online map of Kenya. This kind of "mash-up," which combine different types of media (video, text, and a map, in this case). Mash-ups are a critical new tool in visualizing data.

However, technology was also used to encourage hate. Text messages like this:

"Fellow Kenyans, the Kikuyu's have stolen our children's future...we must deal with them in a way they understand...violence."

"No more innocent Kikuyu blood will be shed. We will slaughter them right here in the capital city. For justice, compile a list of Luo's you know...we will give you numbers to text this information."

These messages were sent en masses, hoping to stir up ethnic violence. The Kenyan government was considering shutting down mobile phone service in the country to put a hault to these incitations to violence, but Safaricom's CE0, Michael Joseph, convinced them not shut down his network but instead sent text messages of peace and calm to its 9 million subscribers. A chat room called Mashada, however, was also shut down due to pervasive hate speech between Lou and Kikuyu.

What does this mean to governments interested in public diplomacy? If you want to influence people, get involved in networks. The online space is another public sphere, which can influence and exert influence which touches the outside world (online organizing during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which Josh has also written on, provides another key example.) There are great opportunities for engagement, though doubtless new challenges as well.

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Wednesday Links 4.16.08

Tam to San Francisco, via mbonocore. I'll be there all summer! More on that soon.

In Orlando, Hash links to a fascinating way to visualize internet connectivity in Africa.
In Cambridge, Jen registers Congolese blogosphere reaction of a recent horrific plane crash.
In Kigali, a promising new capital market opens.
In Cambridge, our Berkman Center I&D research on Iran is covered in NYT.

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ICT and Public Diplomacy Event at Fletcher

Thanks to my colleague and friend Mary Joyce for taking notes at the ICT and Public Diplomacy panel at the Murrow 100th Anniversary event at Fletcher yesterday. By the way, during the panel, Ethan Zuckerman called Mary one of the "10 best thinkers in the digital activism space." True dat.

From the I&D blog...

Today I am at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University to attend a panel organized by I&D research assistant (and Fletcher student) Josh Goldstein and chaired by Berkman fellow and Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman. The panel, entitled “ICT and Public Diplomacy” is part of a larger conference, the Edward R. Murrow 100th Anniversary Conference on public diplomacy. I took notes on all the panelists’ presentations but as I still need to edit the other sections, I’ll start with Ethan’s.

Ethan begins with an introduction to the Internet. There has been a fundamental shift in recent years. The ability to broadcast online, which was previously only accessible to physics professors connected to CERN, is now available to anyone. This greater access also applies to cell phones. In a recent study conducted by the London School of Economics, 79% of rural Tanzanians said they had access to a mobile phone if they needed one. (This potential access tends to realize itself at moments of political crisis.)



ICT's and Public Diplomacy; SNA Analysis of Internet & Democracy

A few interesting things happening today:

(i) Ethan Zuckerman will be chairing, and I will be speaking, on an ICT and Public Diplomacy panel at the Edward R. Murrow 100th Anniversary conference at the Fletcher School on Tuesday, April 15th at 9AM-10:30AM. Ethan will be discussing the technological shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 with a framing of recent protests in Tibet. I will be discussing the concept of network diplomacy with a focus on post-election events in Kenya. I'll also briefly mention various social network analysis methods being utilized at the Berkman Center and researched at Fletcher.

(ii) Along with Fletcher PhD student Patrick Meier, I will be writing a paper entitled Social Network Analysis for Networked Protest Politics: A Guide for Internet and Democracy Scholars. In line with the discussion of quantitative analysis we had last week, this paper will identify the various Social Network Analysis (SNA) tools available to researchers to better understand how the social network structure of social movements corresponds well with the technological structure of the Internet. We are submitting this abstract for an upcoming conference in Germany.

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Mapping Africa's Humanitarian Situation

“Sometimes there is just nothing more you can do than report what you see.” This was Erik Hersman’s impetus behind creating a tool called Ushahidi, which allows people in Kenya to report acts of violence via mobile phones and theinternet, and have them appear automatically on an online map for others to see.

Ushahidi is a mashup, a blending of two Internet applications to relay information in a visually compelling way. Over the past few months, experimental mashups, particularly those centered on Google Maps, have emerged in an attempt gain a better understanding of humanitarian emergencies and democratic processes.

While Ushahidi is unique in allowing witnesses to report incidents of violence via mobile phone with picture or video, there are three other particularly interesting Africa-centric smashup experiments, each with a slightly different set of functions. This first is Darfur Museum Mapping Initiative|Crisis in Darfur, which is a collaboration of Google Earth and the U.S. Holocaust Museum. This platform allows the user to view professionally collected photos, video and written testimony from Darfur, as well as view images of destroyed villages and IDP camps.

Also, the Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group recently developed the Mapping Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe project, a map-based collection of reports of everything from voter fraud to looting to vote buying. Understanding that a crackdown from the authorities is more likely in Zimbabwe’s tightly regulated news space, this site is designed as a secondary news source, reporting only reports published by others. Finally, my friends and colleagues at Northwestern University’s Center for Global Engagement launched, which is an effort to map “ongoing community-led philanthropic partnerships in northern Uganda.”

There seems to two be two particularly compelling reasons that mashups are effective. First, reporting an act of violence or voter fraud is an act of participation in a chaotic environment. It’s a way to be a witness, and urge the world to do the same. Daudi of MentalAcrobatics writes:
“We as Kenyans are guilty of having short-term memories. Yesterday’s villains are today’s heroes. We sweep bad news and difficult decision under the carpet; we do not confront the issues in our society and get shocked when the country erupts as it did two months ago.”

Secondly, an interactive map is a remarkably effective way to tell a story. Tragic violence in Kenya’s Rift Valley or Sudan’s Darfur calls for empathy and action, but it is difficult to feel a connection with a place you can’t imagine. C.J Menard’s famous map of Napoleon’s march to Moscow is often hailed as the best statistical graphic ever made, because it powerfully represents the decimation of 470,000 troops in the frigid Russian winter of 1812. Mashups like Ushahidi and This is Zimbabwe do not claim to be statistically complete representations, but like Menard’s drawing they aim to pull the reader into a visually acute experience.

Tools like Ushahidi are created in order to compellingly present crimes that should not be allowed to face impunity. The obvious criticism, perhaps most acutely felt by those who make these tools, is that they do not actually do anything to help prevent crimes or save lives.

However, many are working to change this. Patrick Meier, a PhD candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a Doctoral Research Fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Institute (HHI) is attempting to apply the lessons of digital activism to humanitarian early warning systems. Meier is developing a tool called the Humanitarian Sensor Web, which allows community leaders and service providers like the World Food Program to coordinate their efforts in emergency humanitarian situations. Further, the Sensor Web aims to serve as a source of collective intelligence, with a map-based database of places and events, which will help those who are responding to current crisis or planning for future security or humanitarian relief.

Needless to say, all of the tools discussed in this article are in their nascent (in web terms ‘beta’) stage, but they are evidence of an exciting new set of tools that can provide a variety of important functions, from demonstrating the need for a humanitarian intervention to actually implementing one.

cross-posted to Harvard's I&D Blog.

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"Mapping Iran's Online Public"

For the last few months, my colleagues Bruce Etling and John Kelly at the Internet & Democracy project at Harvard's Berkman Center have been doing cutting-edge research to understand the Persian-language blogosphere. Yesterday, their report, "Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere", was released and covered in Sunday's New York Times.

A snapshot of the Iranian blogosphere. For larger image, click here.

To me, there are three reasons this kind of work is fascinating:

First, it recognizes that the internet is a public space that is worth investigating to understand wide-ranging segments of society, including pro-democracy groups, youth and terrorists. This study on Iran is currently one of three narrative case studies on the effect of internet on democracy and civil society (blatant self-promotion: I wrote one of these cases, entitled "The Role of Digital-Networked Technology in Ukraine's Orange Revolution").

Second, the case is a great myth-buster. For some time, it has been taken as received wisdom that the Iranian blogosphere is dominated by young pro-Western activists rearing to overthrow the regime. This case proves that the Iranian blogosphere is a far more nuanced space, shared by religious and secular points of view, as well as poetry and pop culture.

Third, this case is great experiment in using quantitative tools to understand the internet as a public space. This case uses a proprietary social network analysis (SNA) algorithm developed by our colleague John Kelly at Morningside Analytics. Like any quant tool, it has its advantages and limits, but its a fantastic first step for mapping Iran's public online space.

Check out this case here.


New Anecdote on Internet and Chinese Nationalism

In today's WSJ, Emily Parker picks up an interesting anecdote about the potency and power of Chinese nationalism expressed online:

In fact, the widespread popularity of the Internet is allowing the people to influence the state media. A Chinese journalist who worked for CCTV, a major state media outlet, explained to me how this works. The journalist, who requested that he not be named, described his own experience covering Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council. An Internet petition opposing the bid reportedly obtained over 40 million signatures.

"Public opinion may have played a decisive role in determining the state media reporting, not the other way around. "After the reactions on the Internet, the government changed, so we had to change. We had to report every day on how these efforts [to gain a seat on the Security Council] were going. Before this era, government could act unilaterally. Now, when something happens on the Internet, the government has to change policy.

cross-posted to Harvard's I&D blog.