Notes from re:publica XI

Modern Revolutions are Digital Revolutions
Africa: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – A signal for the whole of Africa?

Discussion Panel hosted by Geraldine de Bastion with Claire Ulrich, Amira Al Hussaini, Ludger Schadomsky

The Internet changed the flow of information in the Arabic world. People could express their individual feelings and thoughts with only one click. Traditional censorship could not handle the information that was spread via the Internet. Before, traditional media could be shut down immediately if they would not obey rules of censorship.

During the beginning of this year, we saw the worst thing that social media can do. People expressed hatred and some enjoyed how political opponents were tortured etc. People provide social media content and it is up to the people who these communication channels develop. On the other hand, telecommunication systems were and are used for people to get help in many different situations of emergency. Telecommunications companies installed free hotlines where people in South Saharan Africa can call for help.

In 2005 in Ethiopia, people tried to organise themselves via sms and mobile phones, but this technology could be controlled and shut down by authorities. Control mechanisms are crucial for authoritative regimes to keep their power.

Al Jazeera played a crucial role during the revolutions in the Arabic world; however, the time given to specific revolutions in countries (e.g. Egypt, Syria) varies greatly.

The francophone bloggossphere develops greatly in Africa as the number of cyber cafes is growing. Events in Africa unite the French bloggers, as the points of interest become increasingly international.

Sms and social media are not restricted to revolution: e.g. In Mali, people were warned via Twitter and sms that they should take care of their cattle as bush fire was heading towards certain villages. Many African countries don’t have a developed civil society; therefore social media have less impact in some countries. In Ethiopia for instance, the Facebook penetration is about 0.3 %. Civil society profits from connectivity as telecommunications supports the development of civil societies in African countries.

There are many elections taking place in Africa this and the coming year. Politicians already realised that the impact of telecommunications, and they use it for campaigning: “If you go and vote for X, and you send this message to 7 people, you can win $100.” Such messages were sent in Uganda from a national telecommunication company.

Governments in the Arab world have always been out of touch with the people and with reality. Arab people have a common language, a common set of rules and a common sense of the world. People united, as they were all Tunisians, Egyptians, etc. Also the regimes were common. The world accepted the regimes in the Arab world and only now, these leaders are realised to have been dictators. People in Arabic countries were moved as they saw the dictators, who rules with iron hands, step down from power. People realised that they were oppressed and they had rights, which was a great change in self-perception of these societies.

The support of the international community is very important in the ongoing processes. People from outside can speak more freely; bloggers in oppressed countries endanger themselves and their families and friends, if they speak freely.

Young people drive the revolutions, as Africa’s population is young. These young people don’t want to live as their parents and grand parents did. When Mubarak cut off the Internet people believed that he would do something really evil. For many, this was the final aspect to go on the streets.

Changing the World, One Map at a Time

Patrick Meier

During the earthquake in Haiti, the first information was provided by twitter user from the state’s capital. User generated program exploded, so Patrick and friends decided to map what was going on. Information came from social media and mainstream media. Ushahidi(.com) was used to located reports. The map changed every 10-15 minutes as new reports came in. A number of first responders used this map to coordinate first aid, consequently lives could be saved more easily. Telecommunication infrastructure was rebuild within a couple of days, as mobile phones are the most common communication tool. A short code for sms 4636 was installed in cooperation with a telecommunication company and volunteers all over the world volunteered to translate the messages into English.

The earthquake in Japan was also mapped immediately, and the map was also used by emergency units and governmental coordinators.

In Libya, the Libya Crisis Map was launched, because people from outside Libya didn’t know what was going on in Libya. Patrick and his team was contacted to map the crisis map of Libya. Again, emergency units the information provided by the “Standby Volunteer Task Force” – the network of people that engaged in these crisis information privation.

The tool can also be used to prove information for students’s protests and the like. The important part are the people and the processes as the technology is rather easy to implement.

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