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New Technology, Social Media And Human Rights


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#1 jonbey

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Posted 16 December 2011 - 10:25 AM

Yesterday I attended a seminar hosted by the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution, University of Essex. It discussed how various social media technologies are being used to monitor, analyse, inform and change the world. Fascinating. I blogged all about it on my own blog (self promotional link coming up):

http://www.webologis...nd-human-rights

What I found most interesting was how SMS was being used to raise awareness of so many issues. Empowering the people to act.

#2 DCrx

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 04:45 AM

Boring. Again, these are people fascinated with electricity.

In the 1970s, using smuggled bootleg cassette tapes of Khomeini speeches, the Iranian revolution began. From the distant first anti-Khomeini newspaper response to the revolutionary council named by Khomeini as the begining of the transition -- about one year. If modern technology shaved more than a couple of months off, that is it. You can claim, max, a fifteen percent speedup from forty years ago. At even a measly twenty percent, you're largely in the territory of fiction.

Social pull caused the technology of the time to be used. Cassettes were an ideal size to get across a border, and once there, cheap to buy, cheap to copy, easy to distribute. And almost incidental to anything having to do with a social movement. Including the speed change happens.

We have actually devolved to attribute magical properties to just about anything coming down the pike this week. Technology is not so much a tool, but some kind of ludicrous magic wand. Putting the words technology and social media up there in equal billing with social movements is as absurd now as making the Iranian revolution a generation ago about cassette tapes.

Putting these buzzwords In Front Of social movement in the title is an atrocity. Forget the supposed liberal bias of the media. Forget the vast right wing conpiracy theory. Worry about the magical thinking applied to technology movement in evidence all around.

We are really acting like a pre-technology cargo cult. Get on Facebook, and the cargo gods will parachute a crate of social change into your back yard. That hampers every attempt at using the tools for social good.

I wouldn't go see these speakers talk about distributing cucumber sandwitches at a garden party, let alone manage social media to counter propaganda and censorship, and keep you skull impact free ...heck it is propaganda. Luckily "magical appliances you can communicate with" is so abjectly pathetic it doesn't matter.

Cassettes are looking mighty good right now. At no point in media coverage could cassettes upstage to the social movement that used them. No flim flam artist would dare sling casette technology the way SMMers have the twenty-first century equivalent of the old phone party line. (Remember party lines?)

Sure. Fine. Electricity is a modern wonder. Google ...yea! Facebook and [insert AOL heyday membership numbers here] ...okay, I was never much for history anyway, so color me impressed. ... And your point was?!

Let's agree on something. Humans are social. They can pick up tins cans and string and cobble together a 'social media' ...by age eight (if they're not particularly bright). That computers and networks finally got up to tin-cans-and-string level is no tribute to speed, savvy, sophistication, or technological prowess. What we have now ain't nothin' to brag about, especially not on a stage.

Where's MY right to be free from the throngs of people nattering about a networked LiteBrite with delusions of grandeur? Architect a network whose specific design is to staunch flame wars -- rather than facilitate them -- we'll talk conflict resolution in the real world.

Right now we can't figure out how to keep a dirty joke between employees going out to the whole company by accident. Try crawling a little before you put out a press release announcing you can run digiratti. Then we can talk about networks that don't run facial recognition software on every photo you upload and automatically tag it with that person's name and location. ...You know, as long as it's not sent to the second message bin you didn't know you had. Not being a self proclaimed social media conflict resolution expert, I can't say for sure, but seems to me that would cause more conflict than it would resolve.


Related:

Meanwhile it's been ten years and I can't get this on my cell from any app store. But I can get the new Angry Birds levels. Worry about that social movement.

Edited by DCrx, 17 December 2011 - 07:59 AM.


#3 glyn

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 03:19 PM

Mate, what do you get up inside your head when you write those long posts! i can't understand it.

What I can say is that the vast majority of Human Rights organizations are doing social media all wrong. I've been analysing this trend for sometime now.

This is because technology has driven the change and not strategy. We've got technological determinism happening so hard with all the social networks that I think (if understand one of your points) that we are all being shoved into a very questionable user interface, which has a nefarious side. We want everyone to share. If I dupe you on the way into providing the "community" with personal information by making this data entry section look like part of the registration process, then that just coincidence!!! That's even before you start looking at the ethics of visual communication in these channels, in a global, cross cultural context. Try and plan for that.

What social media provides is an amazing opportunity to bring people closer to issues. Why it is failing at the moment if because people are manically trying to fill the social platforms with "something...because we've just got to be tweeting and have a fan page", and because people are just overawed with it.

I talk with non-profits, and educational institutions and repeat to them how important it is to define your strategy first. Consequently, there are some that have really really coodinated strategies and it's not about the followers either, but they are the few. 90% just post updates.

#4 DCrx

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Posted 17 December 2011 - 06:21 PM

Why it is failing at the moment if because people are manically trying to fill the social platforms with "something...because we've just got to be tweeting and have a fan page", and because people are just overawed with it.


And why is that? Magical thinking. Silver bullet thinking.

Overawe is unwarranted and unsubstantiated. Warmed over Cluetrain leftovers. And this doesn't serve any social cause -- it gets in the way.

Edited by DCrx, 17 December 2011 - 07:12 PM.


#5 A.N.Onym

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 06:21 AM

Social platforms are just tools. Good tools, of course, maybe more convenient, than offline word of mouth, but tools, nonetheless.

They simply make it easier to communicate and share. If people want to share, they'll find their ways. Tools just came in handy.

#6 DCrx

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 10:08 AM

Good tools


On that part we disagree. So-so, maybe. Needs work ...now we're getting warmer (and far more representative of the topics under discussion at the event).

Social media is only useful if it leads to action. Revolution only work when people take to the streets and protest en masse. If 100,000 people “Liked” a Facebook page called “We hate Mubarak” nothing would have changed.


This speaker has their head on straight. Introducing the factoid of illiteracy rates in countries that would be the ones to employ these tools is tantamount to an assement of their unsuitability to the user and the task. So, not-so-good tools.

The basic spin of this is Twitter and Facebook were a catalyst of the Arab spring. Well, sorta, maybe but more accuratly not really. Organizing a keg party, okay maybe. (Get rid of the usability snafus with something as simple as an inbox, and that moves to a solid maybe). Keeping a social movement together, safe and effective ...now we're stretching it. Conflict Resolution is pants-on-fire hyperbole.

Just a casual reading of the kinds and types of PR fiascos Facebook has been going through This Year causes a raised eyebrow. That this seems to be their standard operating procedure, and, well, I may have been giving a benefit of doubt where none was deserved. And you can go down the list, a nice place to start is Google's Chinese dissident breach since Google +/- gets them into the social media biz.

Okay. Valid point for debate: Is Google Plus a good tool? Rebuttal: Google Plus Engineer. It puts the mindset evident in rather stark alternative perspective.

Point being, what these people are talking about are advanced interaction design principles not in evidence on any platform discussed. Platforms never meant to be anything more than built-to-flip Google or Conde Nast buyout targets. Show me a tank crew playing Farmville and out of the business of supressing dissent, I'll show you conflict resolution facilitated by social media.

You don't have to dislike Tulips to point out a Tulip mania surrounding them. Not an issue when a graduate of the precious snowflake academy gets passed over for a job due to their drunken frat photoshoot. A different matter when we start talking about human rights conflicts.

Edited by DCrx, 18 December 2011 - 10:40 AM.


#7 A.N.Onym

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 10:25 AM

Well, current social platforms, especially, when combined with mobile internet-connected devices with photo/video cameras, are a bit more useful, than old tape photo cameras, audio tapes and paper letters. Mobile social enables faster local interaction, be it a keg party or a political meeting (for example, for a recent "fair vote" meeting in Moscow, about 30-40k signed up at Facebook or vKontakte and almost 70-90k had arrived at the square. So in this case, online activity was only a part of offline activity. There were people, who had learned about the meet from offline [I've talked to one at least]).

Also, as an example, on 10th Dec, there were "fair voting" meets in major and other towns all over Russia. All of them were organized and promoted online (but most were also promoted offline via word of mouth).

However, I do concede that social platforms had only helped increase the numbers, but not the actual decision making process of the participants. Our government had done plenty of things to make up our own minds.

#8 DCrx

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 10:52 AM

Russian literacy rate: 99.4%

Tool suitability to task: Good.

Two inboxes: Netralizes literacy rate: You have to know there's something to read for literacy to kick in.

Feature suitability to task: Questionable. Tool assesment: problematic.

Unless it's cool. Then it's definitely a big win for social media. ...Hey I drop a half grand on an iPhone; it'd better move mountains.

Edited by DCrx, 18 December 2011 - 10:55 AM.


#9 SEOigloo

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Posted 18 December 2011 - 04:52 PM

Boring. Again, these are people fascinated with electricity.


DCrx...Respectfully, disagree with writing this off as boring. I have seen the Internet used successfully as a tool to galvanize people to action. A couple of years ago, the people of California did something that had never been done before in the history of the United States - they stopped the aerial spraying of pesticides over San Francisco and other major cities. In all previous cases, people had failed to organize a protest successfully enough to halt such activity. Blogs, fora and websites were used in the recent case to keep people informed about meetings, legal developments and etc. Coupled with offline work, this massive effort actually resulted in a dramatic backing down of the USDA.

The Internet is an excellent tool in the hands of committed people when concerned citizens are on the receiving end of the data.

#10 Doc Sheldon

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 01:45 AM

DCrx, I'm afraid I'd have to disagree with what seems to be your discounting of social media as having any meaningful impact on social action. Certainly, it's a much less effective tool in a society with a largely illiterate populace. But I don't think even a high illiteracy rate renders it meaningless.
Did you happen to watch any of the live-streamed Occupy events? One person with an iPhone can call out to those within earshot that "X" is happening around the corner, and within moments, there's a mass reaction. Hard to imagine that with a cassette tape. ;)

#11 DCrx

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 02:57 AM

One person with an iPhone can call out to those within earshot ...Hard to imagine that with a cassette tape


No comment.

Edited by DCrx, 19 December 2011 - 03:03 AM.


#12 jonbey

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 01:39 PM

Well, the key messages that came out of the conference were that tools were provided and the people generally chose how to use them (e.g. the FrontlineSMS tool was never designed with human rights in mind, it started as an OS system to quickly alert people of localised problems, such as elephant stampedes). It is how people use the tools that is important, and these days mobile phones are more common place than cassette tapes ever were, even in the most remote parts of Africa.

Another feature was mapping / geotagging of events - all automated and designed to provide a real picture in close to real time of the situation on the ground. Not just about organising social change but monitoring and reporting. One interesting issue raised was how social media (specifically Facebook) helps to people to make the decision to act - by seeing images of people taking to the streets people do a quick cost-benefit analysis of participation and decide that joining the protests is a relatively low risk. It is thought that one particular photo on Facebook turned the tide in Egypt.

I also love the idea of SMS being used over the Internet.

As for cassette tapes, last night my old stereo was struggling to play my 20 year old Led Zep tape in my garage gym last night. Need a new solution there!

#13 SEOigloo

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 04:40 PM

Hard to imagine that with a cassette tape.

Good point, Doc Sheldon.

last night my old stereo was struggling to play my 20 year old Led Zep tape

Refuse to let the old technology die, Jon. Just refuse!

#14 jonbey

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 05:06 PM

Funny, as I bought the stereo in my first year in London (1998) when I started renting a little room with Marcia (just here in fact!) but the CD player packed up a few years ago, tape player and radio (FM, MW, no LW unfortunately) still works.

#15 DCrx

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 06:01 PM

Question: Why couldn't somebody "cal out" to those within earshot by simply Calling Out. Because, they are withing earshot (definition: The range within which a voice can be heard).

Let me guess. You use your iPhone to call the wife in the kitchen to see what's cooking. You can tell your kids are arguing because of the furious texting going on ...in dead silence ...with each kid within earshot of the other on opposite sides of a room. It's not hard for me to imagine something other than cassettes being the solution here. (I know what you're thinking ...and no, this is not me touting eight track cartridges, or reel-to-reel tapes, not chalkboards, not carrier pidgeons, nor pneumatic tubes).

I'm the one looking at people touting pneumatic tubes -- not you.

Or, using a cassette and a boom box, you could communicate a message in a way sms has been struggling with ...for years. (Literacy problem solved ... third world not being able to afford an iPhone and data plan solved). However, this is not about cassette tapes. It is not about social media. It is about a mania crowding out basic reasoning skills. Like thinking this is about cassettes.

Question: In Iraq, how many hours on average do you go without electricity - per day? It's not hard for me to imagine you can tell me every nook and cranny about iOS, but not this little factoid. And no, it's not some rare occurance soley due to U.S. involvement. The reason Baghdad has power all the time before the invasion was they denied it to other cities.

In a lot of the developing world, that's reality.

This is about sober evaluation, mania free. This is about taking into account the drawbacks (not simply the vendor's talking points) of each technology, and developing a mix that's effective, without cheerleading what's popular right this minute. Of not forcing everything onto the 'net, just because it's there, and it's cool.

Many of these conferences sounds like commercials for technology. Not discussion of how to foster, manage, or start social change. It is one thing to tout Facebook or Twitter's role in any movement. Quite another for the technology to overshadow everything.

“If you can build stuff that doesn’t require the Internet you can use it anywhere” ~ Ken Banks


I get not understanding a single word I write (situation normal). Hard to imagine not understanding the actual article.

Edited by DCrx, 20 December 2011 - 04:43 AM.


#16 glyn

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 04:21 AM

And why is that? Magical thinking. Silver bullet thinking.
Overawe is unwarranted and unsubstantiated. Warmed over Cluetrain leftovers. And this doesn't serve any social cause -- it gets in the way.


It's silver bullet thinking, I agree, but it's out there, and generation of people (for right or wrong ,and I'd argue for wrong), have been brought up on a diet of silver bullet thinking plus consumer junk and technology serving the lie of making everyone equal. Just taking that point in fact, you are going to miss out on a generation of people to get your message across to just because of some ideaological standpoint about where we have arrived at? Can't buy it, Ostrich complex got us nowhere.

Let's ask this question:

When was the last time you saw a campaign for an organization associated with human rights that

a) educated you
b) moved you
c) caused you to act or make a donation
d) had a message that remained with you until the end of the day
e) made you stop and reflect on just how lucky you are
f) told you a story and provided you a timeframe for the issue.

That's a checklist of just how badly things are being done at this time, because it should be possible to do all of the above in a piece of communication.

Is it morally right to "like" a video that shows a group of people that are clearly disadvantaged? Even if that's the only option provided by the social media network, or does it become more ethical to find an alternative solution.


g.

#17 DCrx

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 05:38 PM

Oh hey. These guys, using the magic social tools, can effect social change ...within their own organizations. Problem solved. Evidence obtained. Efficacy proven.

Oh hey! Maybe that's already happening.

...uh, wait a sec.

Edited by DCrx, 20 December 2011 - 05:41 PM.




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