Ushahidi and the Era of Participatory Human Rights Campaign

Today, the new Ushahidi site launched, marking the era of the distributed human rights campaign. Just as Wikipedia allows for the wide-scale participation of collecting the world's knowledge, Ushahidi now allows for anyone, anywhere, to participate in reporting violence, atrocities and human rights violations. Internet scholar Yochai Benkler calls this phenomenon 'commons-based peer production', but what does it really mean?

Until now, campaigns for northern Uganda or Darfur relied on tiny elites in those places to speak for those facing violence. Today, with simply a mobile phone, anyone can actively report incidents of violence to a truly global audience, making it harder for perpetrators to face impunity.

I've written and spoke about Ushahidi before. The project started in the chaotic and sad days following the 2007 Kenyan Presidential campaign, when violence escalated out of control in Kenya's Rift Valley. Then, Ushahidi was an ad hoc tool to allow Kenyans to use mobiles to report incidents of violence, which would then be published on a Google maps based website.

Today, Ushahidi released a platform for use whenever and wherever the next human security disaster erupts. As one of the lead develops, Erik Hersman, recently told me, "Just like a blacksmith, we want to make the hammer, not tell people how to use it." It is exciting to think that whatever the next emergency may be, decent people will be empowered to both spread the word globally and and keep the perpetrators accountable.

Congrats to Erik the whole Ushahidi team!

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