Apps 4 Africa is a contest to find the best technology applications to community challenges in health, education, government transparency etc coming out of East Africa. It runs July 1 to August 31 and submissions can be made on the website, Facebook, Twitter (#apps4africa) and through SMS in Kenya (text 3002 w/ keyword ‘apps’ anywhere in the message).
The contest is open to citizens based in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Others can participate by voting good ideas to the top of the site, where technologists can build tools based on these submissions. Regardless of the final results, these ideas will be accessible to the public long after the contest ends.
The contest is an initiative of the State Department in collaboration with Kenya's iHub incubator, Appfrica, and SODNET. It builds on the success of other apps contest such as Apps for Democracy and USAID Development 2.0
Fallows reports comments from a Chinese reader, who notes 4 key advantages:
Read the full article here.
Aida F. Akl writes in the Voice of America that the rapid spread of cell phones in the Middle East over the past decade has created a new space for young people in the closed societies of the Middle East to interact and express themselves while providing activists with more efficient ways to organize massive political campaigns. Middle Easterners from all age groups and walks of life, for example, use their mobile phones to vote for their favorite artist on Star Academy, the region's counterpart of American Idol. The cell phone has also broken down the barriers posed by gender segregation, curfews, and supervised dating by giving young people new ways to connect and allowed young people to access pornography, a big taboo in Middle Eastern societies. Middle Eastern activists have also used cell phones to organize pro-democracy protests. Kuwaiti women used mass text messaging to organize a successful campaign to gain voting rights. Shi’ite activists in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain used text messaging to campaign for political participation. As we've discussed before on the liberation technology blog, Iranian demonstrators also used cell phones to upload photos of clashes with security forces to social media web sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Former Microsoft Sociologist and member of the liberation technology community Marc Smith spoke on June 4th at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City about what social media network maps can tell us about various political figures and topics. Political discussions are obviously a major area of social media use. The talk explored the ways in which social network analysis and visualization can be applied to mapping discussions of political issues and topics.
In a successful case of Internet organizing that has gone somewhat unnoticed by the mainstream press, students at the University of Puerto Rico since April 22 have effectively used the Internet to organize strikes to protest budget cuts by the Government of Puerto Rico and to disseminate the news about their efforts. France24 published a great synopsis of the situation and provides various resources for those interested in following the strikes. Some of those resources are included below. The students have filmed dozens of videos of their mobilization and posted them on YouTube:
Juliana Rincón Parra writes about how students protesting about budget cuts at the University of Puerto Rico have been utilizing social media to maintain flows of information. The protests have been going on for a month and concern plans to abolish scholarships that allow lower income students access to higher education. She writes:
"This student movement has stood out for its incredibly creative and extensive use of blogs and social media as communication platforms. Students, supporters, and detractors, have opened blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts, Internet-based radio stations, and shot videos related to the student strike that has turned a month old today. Alternative digital media has played a fundamental role in disseminating information about the strike. Students, and other groups, have had a space to voice their perspectives, thoughts, and feelings about what is happening to them without having to depend on the mainstream media.
Some citizen videos tell us what is going on inside the University of Puerto Rico grounds. For example this following video by Noelia González [es] shows the places where supporters of the protest on the outside are gathering food and drink for students for distribution to the inside. The students also take us on a tour of the grounds including makeshift showers, washing stations and how they are keeping the grounds free of trash. Outside, support is strong, as vox-pop interviewees state: the protest is a teachable moment and students are standing up for their rights."
Mark MacKinnon writing in the Globe and Mail, explains how Twitter has been both helping rescue efforts for the injured, but also spreading hatred on both sides during the continued conflict in Bangkok.
He recounts how he was trapped with 3,000 civilians, many of whom were injured, in Wat Patum Temple. Having telephoned the embassies, hospitals and the Red Cross, he then put a message out on Twitter asking for help. He even included photos of the injured around him. Within minutes, his message had been re-tweeted hundreds of times, and had been picked up by the Guardian's blog. Ambulances arrived to get them out 80 minutes later.
While this personal experience was certainly powerful, MacKinnon also makes clear the negative impact of Twitter during the unrest:
While the social networking site did perhaps save lives in a few specific instances, Twitter – and the opportunity it gives to instantly broadcast whatever is on your mind, often from behind a cloak of near-anonymity – also gave Thais and foreigners living here the chance to broadcast vitriolic, often hateful, thoughts to the world, raising the temperature inside this already volatile country and arguably helping nudge the situation toward its violent end.
It was common to read comments on my Twitter feed that compared supporters of Mr. Abhisit to Nazis and followers of the Red Shirt movement to livestock. Each hateful comment seemed to provoke an even nastier response, and by the time the nine-week-old protest came to an end, each side was cheering acts of violence against the other.
Prof. Miriam Meckel, Professor for Corporate Communication at the University of St. Gallen, presented at Harvard's Berkman Center on Tuesday, introducing a piece of recent research looking at how social media is impacting on journalism.
Her team examined Twitter data during three weeks of the Iran protests in June 2009, and found over 2 million Iran related tweets from 480,000 accounts. They then narrowed their focus to 100 the most active and most relevant users, by looking at keywords and numbers of tweets and retweets.
As a case study of the relationship between Twitter and other media, they focused on one journalist, Andrew Mackey, who blogs for the New York Times, to see how he was using Twitter data to inform readers. Having divided Mackey’s Twitter followers into three groups according to level of interest (by looking at their Twitter feed), they found that readers classed as “very interested” bypassed Mackey and chose to follow the original Iran Twitter sources directly. Those only “interested” used Mackey as an intermediary for their information about the protests. The team’s analysis showed that Mackey drew heavily on 12 sources to inform his blog entries (60% of his posts on Iran made mention of Twitter).
Mina Muradova -- an Azerbaijain-based freelance reporter -- wrote on Eurasianet.org that the Government of Azerbaijain plans to censor the Internet. On April 22, Nushiravan Maggeramli -- the head of Azerbaijan’s National TV and Radio Council (NTRC) -- called for stronger controls on online radio and television. Now, Ali Abbasov -- the Azerbaijani Minister of Communication and Information Technologies -- has echoed the comments, suggesting that such controls could stem the alleged "illegal activities” of Internet users in that country, though he could not provide specific evidence of such activities. Abbasov stated: "There is no doubt, electronic media should be under control. It is not permitted that everyone can say whatever comes into his mind, something against the state..." The controls are expected to come in the form of a licensing system for any online commercial service. Reporters Without Borders has called the licensing system “a shameless offensive against the Internet.” Muradova added:
Lowell Feld, a blogger at Blue Virginia and author of the book Netroots Rising, sends the link to an article written by Evgeny Morozov in Foreign Policy Magazine that attempts to dispel the "myths" that the Internet promotes freedom, political activism, and perpetual peace. Lowell does not take a position either way but finds the article relevant to the larger debate about liberation technologies. The purported myths listed by Morozov are the following: