Monthly Archives: February 2009

ISA 2009: Mobile Phones and Political Activism

The second presentation at the ISA panel that I’m chairing will feature research by Fabien Miard on mobile phones as facilitators of political activism (see previous post for first presentation). Fabien will be sharing the findings from his recent MA thesis (PDF), which I have read with great interest.

Introduction

Fabien’s research examines whether the number mobile phones affect political activity by drawing on a large-N quantitative study. This is an area in much need of empirical analysis since “little systematic research beyond loose collections of case studies has been done so far.” Furthermore, as I have noted in my own dissertation research, the vast majority of social science research on information and communication technologies (ICTs) is focused on the impact of the Internet exclusively.

Data

The large-N study draws on the proprietary Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive (CNTS) for data on three forms of political activism: anti-government demonstrations, riots and major government crises. This dataset is derived from articles published in the New York Times (NYT). The data on the number of mobile phone subscribers is provided by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Control variables include: GDP per capita and population. The data he used spanned 191 countries between 1991-2006 but “a third of these dropped out due to missing values.”

Analysis

Fabien uses negative binomial regression (with one year time lag) to test whether the number of mobile phone subscribers is a statistically significant predictor of political activism.

The results indicate that mobile density has no significant effect on anti-government demonstrations when the control variables are included. The same is true when using riots or major government crises as dependent variables. GDP per capita is small and insignificant except for riots, where it has a significant negative effect. Population has an effect on all three variants of political activism variables.

Conclusion

Fabien therefore concludes that mobile connectivity is neither negatively nor positively associated with political activism. This implies that existing case studies “are overrated and that generalization by means of a global comparative case study is not possible.” He suggests that future quantitative research  take into account the following two recommendations:

  • Compare the impact of mobile phones on democratic versus oppressive regimes;
  • Analyze the combined impact of mobile phones and the Internet in addition to traditional technology variables;

These suggestions are spot on. One large-N quantitative study that I recently co-authored at the Berkman Center takes the first recommendation into account by comparing the impact of Internet and mobile phone users on measures of governance and democracy in both democratic and autocratic regimes (stay tuned for a blog post on this).

In my own dissertation research, I plan to compare the impact of Internet and mobile phone users on protests frequency in highly repressive versus midly repressive regimes. I also take into account Fabien’s second recommendation by adding Internet users and landlines. Furthermore, I include unemployment rate as a control variable which Fabien omits in his analysis.

Patrick Philippe Meier

ISA 2009: New ICTs Increase Government Respect for Human Rights

As mentioned in my previous post, I am chairing a panel I organized on:

“The Changing Role of ICT in Political Activism, Resistance and Human Rights”

at the ISA conference in New York next week. The panel will figure four presenters (including myself). I’ll blog about the papers one at a time in the lead up to Tuesday’s panel.

Introduction

The first presentation by Lucia Munoz and Indra de Soysa will address the impact of information communication technologies (ICTs) on government respect for human rights. Their large-N quantitative study is particularly interesting because they seek to determine whether old and new technologies have differential impact on the respect for human rights:

We argue that the question of ICTs and social outcomes must be addressed in terms of whether or not the new technologies are ‘qualitatively’ different from the older technologies.

Data

The study draws on the Political Terror Scale (PTS) and the Physical Integrity Rights Index (CIRI) to measure government respect for human rights. In terms of ICT data, old media is comprised of telephone landlines and television sets (1980-2005) while new media includes Internet subscribers and mobile phone access (1990-2005). This data is taken from the World Telecommunications/ICT Indicators Database. The authors control for the following variables: the level of formal democracy, economic situation, population size, ethnic fractionalization, civil war, oil wealth, legal tradition system and the time trend.

Analysis

Using Ordered Probit Analysis and OLS regression analysis, the authors find “clear evidence suggesting that the effects of internet access are positive, net of several important control variables, such as income and regime type. The older information and communication technology, such as access to TV and mainline telephones, is negative and statistically highly significant. This means that, after controlling for a host of important factors, the old technology lowers rights while the new technology increases respect for human rights.”

Conclusion

These findings are fascinating since the results empirically demonstrate the fundamental difference in impact between old and new technologies. Perhaps this validates the points I made in my debate on Human Rights 2.0 with Sanjana Hattotuwa from ICT4Peace. In any event, I will include these preliminary findings in my panel presentation at the HURIDOCS conference in Geneva on:

“New Trends in Human Rights Communications.”

A copy of the paper by Munoz and Indra is available here (PDF). Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on the two other panel presentations.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Impact of ICTs on Repressive Regimes: Findings

My dissertation focuses on the impact of digital resistance on nonviolent political transitions. Digital resistance is a term I use to describe the convergence between civilian resistance and digital activism in countries with repressive regimes. I’ve finally completed the quantitative part of my research and would be very grateful to get as much feedback as possible on the findings so I can write up a final draft in the comings weeks and start planning the field research.

Introduction

The question driving my dissertation research is whether digital resistance poses a threat to authoritarian rule? In other words, are the tactics associated with nonviolent civilian resistance movements greatly enhanced by access to modern information communication technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and the Web? Or are repressive regimes becoming increasingly savvy in their ability to regulate the impact of the information revolution within their borders?

If I could turn my research into a Hollywood Blockbuster, the title would probably be: “Repression 2.0 versus Revolution 2.0: A Cyber Game of Cat-and-Mouse.”

There are many anecdotes on both sides of the cyber trenches, each asserting tactical victory over the other. But what do all these anecdotes add up to? Can they be quantified to determine what the final score on the scoreboard will read?

Methodology

One way to answer this question is to test whether the diffusion of information communication technology—measured by increasing numbers of Internet and mobile phone users—is a statistically significant predictor of anti-government protests after controlling for other causes of protests. If a positive and statistically significant relationship exists between protest frequency and access to ICT, then one might conclude that the information revolution empowers civil resistance movements at the expense of coercive regimes. If a negative relationship exists, one might deduce that repressive governments have the upper hand.

I used correlation analysis and negative binomial regression analysis on 22 countries between 1990-2007. These countries were selected because their regimes have the technical capacity to repress information. Five regression models were run. The first model included all 22 countries. The second and third model split the countries between high and low levels of protests. The fourth and fifth models split the countries between high and low numbers of mobile phone users.

Findings

This cluster approach was used to minimize the possibility of cancelation effects and to facilitate case study selection for further qualitative research. The cluster of countries with low levels of protests resulted in a statistically significant albeit negative relationship between the number of mobile phone users and protest frequency. This means that an increase in the number of mobile phone users is associated with a decrease in protest frequency.

The cluster of countries with high levels of mobile phones produced a statistically significant and positive relationship between the number of mobile phone users and protest frequency. In other words, an increase in the number of mobile phones is associated with an increase in the number of protests. The other two country clusters, “high protests” and “low mobile phones,” did not produce a statistically significant result for mobile phone use. The number of Internet users was not significant for any of the five models.

The results may suggest that the information revolution empowers civil resistance movements at the expense of repressive regimes in countries with relatively high levels of access to technology. On the other hand, repressive regimes appear to maintain the upper hand in countries with low levels of protest.

Presentation

I’ve written up the findings in this paper (PDF), which I am presenting next week at the International Studies Association (ISA) convention in New York. The paper is part of a panel I organized and will be Chairing on:

“The Changing Role of ICT in Political Activism, Resistance and Human Rights.”

My fellow panelists are presenting the following papers:

  • Fabien Miard on “Mobile Phones as Facilitators of Political Activism.”
  • Joshua Goldstein on “The Role of Digital Networked Technologies in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.”
  • Lucia Munoz & Indra de Soysa on “The Blog vs Big Brother: Communication Technologies and Human Rights, 1980-2005.”

The chair of my dissertation committee, Professor Daniel Drezner from The Fletcher School, will be the discussant for the panel. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to this panel. Stay tuned as I’ll be blogging the presentations, discussant feedback and Q&A next Tuesday.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Impact of ICTs on Repressive Regimes: Findings

My dissertation focuses on the impact of digital resistance on nonviolent political transitions. Digital resistance is a term I use to describe the convergence between civilian resistance and digital activism in countries with repressive regimes. I’ve finally completed the quantitative part of my research and would be very grateful to get as much feedback as possible on the findings so I can write up a final draft in the comings weeks and start planning the field research.

Introduction

The question driving my dissertation research is whether digital resistance poses a threat to authoritarian rule? In other words, are the tactics associated with nonviolent civilian resistance movements greatly enhanced by access to modern information communication technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and the Web? Or are repressive regimes becoming increasingly savvy in their ability to regulate the impact of the information revolution within their borders?

If I could turn my research into a Hollywood Blockbuster, the title would probably be: “Repression 2.0 versus Revolution 2.0: A Cyber Game of Cat-and-Mouse.”

There are many anecdotes on both sides of the cyber trenches, each asserting tactical victory over the other. But what do all these anecdotes add up to? Can they be quantified to determine what the final score on the scoreboard will read?

Methodology

One way to answer this question is to test whether the diffusion of information communication technology—measured by increasing numbers of Internet and mobile phone users—is a statistically significant predictor of anti-government protests after controlling for other causes of protests. If a positive and statistically significant relationship exists between protest frequency and access to ICT, then one might conclude that the information revolution empowers civil resistance movements at the expense of coercive regimes. If a negative relationship exists, one might deduce that repressive governments have the upper hand.

I used correlation analysis and negative binomial regression analysis on 22 countries between 1990-2007. These countries were selected because their regimes have the technical capacity to repress information. Five regression models were run. The first model included all 22 countries. The second and third model split the countries between high and low levels of protests. The fourth and fifth models split the countries between high and low numbers of mobile phone users.

Findings

This cluster approach was used to minimize the possibility of cancelation effects and to facilitate case study selection for further qualitative research. The cluster of countries with low levels of protests resulted in a statistically significant albeit negative relationship between the number of mobile phone users and protest frequency. This means that an increase in the number of mobile phone users is associated with a decrease in protest frequency.

The cluster of countries with high levels of mobile phones produced a statistically significant and positive relationship between the number of mobile phone users and protest frequency. In other words, an increase in the number of mobile phones is associated with an increase in the number of protests. The other two country clusters, “high protests” and “low mobile phones,” did not produce a statistically significant result for mobile phone use. The number of Internet users was not significant for any of the five models.

The results may suggest that the information revolution empowers civil resistance movements at the expense of repressive regimes in countries with relatively high levels of access to technology. On the other hand, repressive regimes appear to maintain the upper hand in countries with low levels of protest.

Presentation

I’ve written up the findings in this paper (PDF), which I am presenting next week at the International Studies Association (ISA) convention in New York. The paper is part of a panel I organized and will be Chairing on:

“The Changing Role of ICT in Political Activism, Resistance and Human Rights.”

My fellow panelists are presenting the following papers:

  • Fabien Miard on “Mobile Phones as Facilitators of Political Activism.”
  • Joshua Goldstein on “The Role of Digital Networked Technologies in the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.”
  • Lucia Munoz & Indra de Soysa on “The Blog vs Big Brother: Communication Technologies and Human Rights, 1980-2005.”

The chair of my dissertation committee, Professor Daniel Drezner from The Fletcher School, will be the discussant for the panel. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to this panel. Stay tuned as I’ll be blogging the presentations, discussant feedback and Q&A next Tuesday.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Web4Dev: Innovation Track Day 2

The second day of the Innovation Track at Web4Dev focused on monitoring and evaluation. Robert Kirkpatrick from InSTEDD, Erik Hersman from Ushahidi and Christopher Strebel from UNESCO each gave a presentation.

Robert introduced InSTEDD’s Mesh4X and GeoChat which I’ve already blogged about here so won’t expand on. But Robert also introduced a new project I was not aware of called Evolve. This tool helps to synthesize data into actionable information, to collaborate around diverse data streams to detect, analyze, triage and track critical events as they unfold.

Erik introduced Ushahidi and described our increasing capacity to crowdsource eyewitness crisis data. However, the challenge is increasingly how to consume and make sense of the incoming data stream. There were thousands of Tweets per minute during the Mumbai attacks. Ushahidi is working on Swift River to explore ways to use crowdsourcing as a filter for data validation.

Christopher Strebel introduced GigaPan, a robotic camera that captures gigapixel images. The tool was developed for the Mars Rover program to take very high resolution images of Mars. UNESCO is introducing the technology for education purposes. I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced about this project; not just because the camera costs $300-$400 but because I don’t see what such a sophisticated  tool adds over regular cameras in terms of education and participation.

In any case, while I found all three presentations interesting, none of them actually addressed the second topic of today’s workshop, namely evaluation. I spent most of December and January working with a team of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) experts to develop a framework for a multi-year project in Liberia. I can conclude from this experience that those of us who don’t have expertise in M&E have a huge amount to learn. Developing serious M&E frameworks is a rigorous process.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Web4Dev: Innovation Track Day 1

I lived in New York for about four years so it’s good to be back for a few days to  participate in UNICEF’s Web4Dev conference with colleagues from Ushahidi, Development Seed, InSTEDD, Open Street Map and Digital Democracy.

Clay Shirky moderated the Innovation Track, which focused addressed the issue of access to innovation and participation. The panel included presentations by himself, Steve Vosloo and Grant Cambridge. We then self-organized into half-a-dozen working groups to address specific issues and identify potential solutions within 2-3 year horizon.

ClayShirky

Steve Vosloo from South Africa gave the first presentation. Steve is a Shuttleworth Foundation Communications and Analytical Skills Fellow. The main thrust of his presentation was that access to participation is more important than simply having access to information.”Participation fosters Peer-to-Peer (P2P) learning across both time and space.”

This statement resonates particularly well with me as I recently presented the concept of P2P capacity building to a donor interested in fostering a conflict early warning/response ecosystem in Liberia (which I will blog about in the near future). Steve’s remark about there being a wealth of information at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) also resonated. When we talk about access to information, we have to ask ourselves access for who? For the BoP or for us? We are too often egocentric in answering this question.

Ushahidi’s Erik Hersman asked the first question following Steve’s talk. Should we be introducing new tools or going with consumer tools? I agree with Steve’s answer: both. If what we are offering is addressing the need of the BoP, then that’s what matters.

A representative from the French Development Agency asked whether moving to the mobile web meant scrapping the work they had done with regards to Internet access via the PC? Steve replied there is only one Web. The PC web and mobile web are one and the same. The Web is the glue that holds everything together.

Clay Shirky gave the second presentation and focused on different topologies of communication. He suggests that communication between people builds social capital. This means that using pre-existing consumer-based communication tools is important. Groups that use such tools for social communication (situated and informal) are going to communicate more effectively during crises.

In terms of sharing information that is communicated, Clay suggests there is a bias towards sharing. If sharing is made the default option on an information communication platform, then well over 90% of participants will share. This is a particularly important point for humanitarian information systems.

Clay shared the difference between the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu surveillance project with respect to information communication. What the CDC does is not bio surveillance but rather bio accounting.  This is an excellent analogy to use for conflict early warning systems. The majority of conventional early warning systems are more accounting tools than surveillance tools given the time lag between documentation and dissemination.

Lastly, Clay made a point about moving towards a communication typology in which the different nodes are mobile phones, web servers, radios, etc. This is exactly the project design I recently presented to a donor: cloud computing for humanitarian early warning and response.

Grant Cambridge from The Meraka Institute gave the third presentation. Grant gave us a reality check vis-a-vis access in rural villages in South Africa. There are huge challenges such as maintenance; theft of copper and optical fibres is a frequent issue, for example.

Grant’s group thus developed “The Digital Doorway” a robust single, multi-terminal systems. The platform includes open content, focusing on education, maths, science and games. There are 200 Doorways across South Africa. The platforms are operational 24/7 and some sites are used around the clock.The Meraka Institute deployed the Doorway in many communities where computers had never been heard of.

But after 7 days, children developed the language and vocabulary to describe what they were doing. For example, they had no word for icon, so they made one. The kids ended up teaching themselves about how to use the Doorway. This promotes group learning. Teachers have had to switch off the Doorways because kids would skip school.The Doorways also include a feedback feature where users can provide feedback to the developers.

In conclusion, Grant reiterated the fact that access to info does not apply inclusion and Internet access doesn’t imply learning.

Patrick Philippe Meier

GIS Technology for Genocide Prevention

Matthew Levinger at USIP kindly shared a copy of his forthcoming publication on “Geographic Information Systems Technology as a Tool for Genocide Prevention.” The article will be published as part of the special issue of Space and Polity on “Geography and Genocide.”

The article considers the uses of virtual globes such as Google Earth for “stimulating more effective responses to emerging threats of genocide and mass atrocities.”

Matt draws on two case studies that utilize commercial satellite imagery to document the genocide in Darfur: the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) Crisis in Darfur project and  and Amnesty International  (AI) USA’s Eyes on Darfur initiative. (See also my previous post USHMM’s and AI’s initiative here and here).

Matt concludes that “GIS-based early warning systems may have the greatest value not for public advocacy movements but rather for policy practitioners charged with designing and implementing responses to emerging threats.  Such technology also has the potential to help endangered populations in conflict zones to organize timely and effective defensive action against threats of atrocities.”

John Prendergast, a senior African analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), predicted that the USHMM‘s project with Google Earth  would “bring a spotlight to a very dark corner of the earth, a torch that will indirectly help protect the victims.  It is David versus Goliath, and Google Earth just gave David a stone for his slingshot.”

I’m far from convinced. First of all, the USHMM‘s Google Earth layer is not updated so the information depicted is of no operational value.  Second, the Museum has only produced a Google Earth layer for every corner of the Earth. Third of all, drawing a correlation between virtual globes and the supposed “Global Panopticon” effect is difficult to prove.

In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault reflects on the role of surveillance as an instrument of power.  He cites the example of Jeremy Bentham’s “Panopticon,” an architectural model for a prison enabling a single guard, located in a central tower, to watch all of the inmates in their cells.  The “major effect of the Panopticon,” writes Foucault, is “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.”

According to Foucault, the Panopticon renders power both “visible and unverifiable”:

Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is being spied upon.

Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.

Does high-resolution satellite imagery coupled with virtual globes lead to a reversal of Bentham’s Panopticon effect? That is, does this new medium enable the many to watch (and control) the few?

As Matt correctly notes vis-a-vis Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, “the use of surveillance was always coupled to the threat of punishment for deviant acts.” So while AI‘s advocacy efforts and those of the Museum‘s are important for keeping the issues in the public discourse, they are hardly acts of punishment.

Google Earth may very well have given David a stone for his slingshot; problem is, David doesn’t have a slingshot and his hands are most likely tied.

Patrick Philippe Meier