Monthly Archives: February 2011

Civil Resistance Tactics Used in Egypt’s Revolution #Jan25

It’s easy to overlook the importance of civil resistance savviness when talking about the protests that forced the hand of power in Egypt. The media placed Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on center stage as if actors in their own right. What struck me most, however, was how well-trained and disciplined the movement was. I believe this had a pivotal impact on the outcome of the protests. Identifying the specific tactics and strategies used in Egypt is important to balance the focus on technology. It is equally important to explain how the popular resistance acquired those skills so others might do the same.

Above is the first page of a 26-page how-to guide circulated in both hard- and electronic-copy during the first wave of protests in Egypt. The document was translated into English by The Atlantic and outlines a number of critical points central to civil resistance, including very specific demands on the Mubarak regime; concrete goals for the popular resistance and tactical steps to achieve these stated goals. The guide also provided tips on what protection gear to wear and how to engage the police with the use of spray paint.

Ahmed Salah, one of the co-founders of the April 6th movement,  later recounted how they mobilized protesters:

Starting in the alleys was not a random decision. It makes tactical and strategic sense regardless of the technology used to coordinate this. Starting small and away from the main protests is a safe way to pool protesters together. It’s also about creating an iterative approach to a “strength in numbers” dynamic. As more people crowd the smaller the streets, this gives a sense of momentum and confidence. Starting in alley ways localizes the initiative. People are likely neighbors and join because they see their friend or sister out in the street. This tactic figured as a drawing in the 26-page guide:

The guide also stressed the need to remain peaceful and not engage in sabotage. The discipline of remaining non-violent is instrumental in civil resistance. Engaging in violence provides government forces with the excuse they’re looking for to clamp down on protesters and delegitimize them in a public way. The guide also recommends that activists try to win over the police and army instead of attacking them. The protesters behind this guide were clearly well trained and knew what they were doing. They even provided several Google Earth screen shots of different parts of the city to recommend tactical moves:

See my blog post on Maps, Activism and Technology: Check-in’s with a Purpose for more on the above picture.

Activists thus took deliberate and informed actions and used technology to synchronize those actions. How did the popular movement become this sophisticated? Young Egyptians had lots of practice. From the Kefeya movement of 2004, the elections of 2005 (and 2010), the April 6 movement of 2008 and the Khaled Said campaign of 2010. They learned from each confrontation and adapted their tactics and strategies accordingly.  They reached out to others such as Otpor in Serbia for training and guidance. The Serbs met with Egyptian groups and  “shared their own hard-won experience, as well as fundamental lessons of popular nonviolent resistance,” according to this article in The Atlantic.  And they took inspiration from the writings of Gene Sharp.

The New York Times recently published an article on Sharp and Egypt entitled: “Shy US Intellectual Created Playbook Used in Revolution”. I have already blogged about Sharp’s work here and here so won’t repeat myself other than to conclude with this: protesting intelligently increases the chances of success. Protesting unprepared and spontaneously will not work, as I have written in this blog post regarding the Sudan protests. Repressive regimes are getting smart. It is important that resistance movements be smarter and better prepared.

The above tactics and strategies are but a sub-set of those used in Egypt. If you have other examples, please share them with readers by adding them in the comments section below. Thank you.

 

Introduction to Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy

Reading Philip Howard’s “Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” and Evgeny Morozov’s “Net Delusion” back-to-back over a 10-day period in January was quite a trip. The two authors couldn’t possibly be more different in terms of tone, methodology and research design. Howard’s approach is rigorous and balanced. He takes a data-driven, mixed-methods approach that ought to serve as a model for the empirical study of digital activism.

In contrast, Morozov’s approach frequently takes the form of personal attacks, snarky remarks and cheap rhetorical arguments. This regrettably drowns out the important and valid points he does make in some chapters. But what discredits Net Delusion the most lies not in what Morozov writes but in what he hides. To say the book is one-sided would be an understatement. But this has been a common feature of the author’s writings on digital activism, and one of the reasons  I took him to task a couple years ago with my blog posts on anecdote heaven. If you follow that back and forth, you’ll note it ends with personal attacks by Morozov mixed with evasive counter-arguments. For an intelligent and informed critique of Net Delusion, see my colleague Mary Joyce’s blog posts.

In this blog post, I summarize Howard’s introductory chapter. For a summary of his excellent prologue, please see my previous post here.

The introductory chapter to Digital Origins provides a critique of the datasets and methodologies used to study digital activism. Howard notes that the majority of empirical studies, “rely on a few data sources, chiefly the International Telecommunications Union, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute. Indeed, these organizations often just duplicate each other’s poor quality data. Many researchers rely heavily on this data for their comparative or single-country case studies, rather than collecting original observations or combining data in interesting ways. The same data tables appear over and over again.”

I faced this challenge in my dissertation research. Collecting original data is often a major undertaking. Howard’s book is the culmination of 3-4 years of research supported by important grants and numerous research assistants. Alas, PhD students don’t always get this kind of support. The good news is that Howard and others are sharing their new datasets like the Global Digital Activism Dataset.

In terms of methods, there are limits in the existing literature. As Howard writes,

“Large-scale, quantitative, and cross-sectionalstudies must often collapse fundamentally different political systems—autocracies, democracies, emerging democracies, and crisis states—into afew categories or narrow indices. [...] Area studies that focus on one or two countries get at the rich history of technology diffusion and political development, but rarely offer conclusions that can be useful in understanding some of the seemingly intractable political and security crises in other parts of the world.”

Howard thus takes a different approach, particularly in his quantitative analysis, and introduces fuzzy set logic:

“Fuzzy set logic offers general knowledge through the strategy of looking for shared causal conditions across multiple instances of the same outcome—sometimes called ‘selecting on the dependent variable.’ For large-N, quantitative, and variable oriented researchers, this strategy is unacceptable because neither the outcome nor the shared causal conditions vary across the cases. However, the strategy of selecting on the dependent variableis useful when researchers are interested in studying necessary conditions, and very useful when constructing a new theoretically defined population such as ‘Islamic democracy.’

“Perhaps most important, this strategy is most useful when developing theory grounded in the observed, real-world experience of democratization in the Muslim communities ofthe developing world, rather than developing theory by privileging null, hypothetical, and unobserved cases.”

Using original data and this new innovative statistical approach, Howard finds that “technology diffusion has had a crucial causal role in improvements in democratic institutions.”

“I find that technology diffusion has become, in combination with otherfactors, both a necessary and suffi cient cause of democratic transition or entrenchment.”

“Protests and activist movements have led to successful democratic insurgencies, insurgencies that depended on ICTs for the timing and logistics of protest. Sometimes democratic transitions are the outcome, and sometimes the outcome is slight improvement in the behavior of authoritarianstates. Clearly the internet and cell phones have not on their owncaused a single democratic transition, but it is safe to conclude that today, no democratic transition is possible without information technologies.”

My next blog post on Howard’s book will summarize Chapter 1: Evolution and Revolution, Transition and Entrenchment.

Check-In’s with a Purpose: Applications for Disaster Response

This is the second post in my check-in’s-with-a-purpose series. The first post looked at the use of check-in’s to coordinate activist campaigns and street protests. The check-in’s series builds on Ushahidi’s free and open-source check-in service (CI) slated to launch in just a few weeks at SxSW 2011.

So how might organizations and local groups be able to use CI for disaster response? In three ways: (1) preparedness; (2) coordination; and (3) evaluation.

Preparedness

When you walk into a disaster area, say following an earthquake, you don’t want to be swamped with all kinds of information imaginable. You only want information relevant to you and your responsibilities in a given geographic area (demand side versus supply side). CI provides an easy, intuitive interface for this. You check-in when you want additional info about the area you are in.

This is similar to the idea of geo-caching, hence the reference to preparedness. You embed (or pre-populate) a given map with relevant structural and event-data for a given area. By structural data, I mean physical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, etc. Event-data simply refers to nearby incidents. New data could be regularly embedded into the map (via geo-RSS feeds) to provide the latest event-data available. When you check-in, CI provides you with information and updates relevant to your vicinity and profile. For example, if you’ve added “health” as a tag on your profile, CI could prioritize health-based information when you check-in, including the location of other health-workers and their contact info.

There is another equally important angle to preparedness when it comes to check-in’s. Mapping infrastructure vulnerable to disasters is common practice in disaster risk reduction projects. These can be community-driven and participatory, giving local communities a stake in building their own resilience. In one such project, local communities in neighborhoods around Istanbul mapped infrastructure vulnerable to earthquake damage, e.g., overhanging structures like balconies. They also mapped local shelters, possible escape routes, etc. CI could be used for this type of crowdsourced, participatory mapping. Crowdfeeding would then simply happen by checking-in. The sign “In case of emergency, break glass” would become “In case of emergency, check-in.”

Coordination

What about coordination? Keeping track of who is in a disaster area, and where, is no easy task. A check-in service would go a long way to addressing this coordination challenge. Call it instant mapping. Disaster responders would simply click the check-in app on their smart phones after they land in a disaster area to check-in. Each organization could set up their own check-in service to coordinate their staff with instant maps. Check-in deployments could also be project- or cluster-based.

In addition, an open check-in deployment could be set up for all responders. A separate CI deployment would be especially useful if hundreds of volunteers decide to fly in. They could be tasked more efficiently if they first checked-in. Doing so would provide coordinators with access to individual profiles with listed skill sets and contact info, much like a LinkedIn profile. Disaster responders and volunteers could also check-out once they leave a disaster area.

A check-in service could facilitate a number of other coordination challenges. Finding missing persons after a disaster has always been difficult, for example. One way to let others know you’re ok would be by checking in. Doing so would prompt the CI service to provide you with the latest on the disaster that took place, information on nearby services and who in your own professional or social network is in the vicinity long with their contact info. This could also be a way to coordinate corporate social responsibility projects in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Large companies with employees wanting to help could simply check-in to their CI service to get information on how to help.

Evaluation

Check-in’s could also be used for evaluation and accountability purposes. Once you’ve accomplished a task, you could quickly check-in with an update, which would leave a digital trace of your accomplishment. Or say you’re on your way to a food distribution site and drive past some newly flooded houses, you could quickly check-in with that information to update everyone else on your network. CI can also be used with badges and points, allowing people to develop a track-record of their work in a disaster area.

Some Challenges

There are of course some challenges in using a CI service for disaster response. Keep it simple. This is perhaps the most important point. One could very easily go all out and add countless features to a CI service. Such is the beauty of open source software. For disaster response, however, the trick will be to keep it simple and not try to turn CI into a solution for everything. If data coverage isn’t possible, then a check-in service should allow for SMS-based check-in’s. This could be done by using SMSsync. Another challenge will be to provide a seamless way to check into multiple CI deployments at the same time and for these to be interoperable. For example, if I’m with WFP, I should be able to check-in on the WFP CI and have my check-in appear simultaneously on the Food Cluster CI, OCHA CI, etc.

If you have ideas about how a check-in service could be used for disaster response, or recommendations on what would make Ushahidi’s CI system more useful, please do add them in the comments section below. My next post in this check-in’s-with-a-purpose series will describe how a CI service combined with gaming can be used to catalyze civic participation and engagement across a range of activities.

How to Use Facebook if You Are a Repressive Regime

As it happens, the main country case studies for my dissertation are Egypt and the Sudan. I’ll have to write a whole lot more given the unprecedented events that have taken place in both countries since January 25th. As many iRevolution readers know, my dissertation analyzes how access to new information and communication technologies changes the balance of power between repressive regimes and popular resistance movements. This means I’m paying close attention to how these regimes leverage tools like Facebook.

The purpose of this blog post is not to help repressive regimes use Facebook better, but rather to warn activists about the risks they face when using Facebook. Granted, many activists already know about these risks, but those I’ve been in touch with over the past few weeks simply had no idea. So what follows is a brief account of how repressive regimes in North Africa have recently used Facebook to further their own ends. I also include some specific steps that activists might take to be safer—that said, I’m no expert and would very much welcome feedback so I can pass this on to colleagues.

We’ve seen how Facebook was used in Tunisia, Egypt and the Sudan to schedule and organize the recent protests. What we’ve also seen, however, is sophistication and learning on the part of repressive regimes—this is nothing new and perfectly expected with plenty of precedents. The government in Tunis was able to hack into every single Facebook account before the company intervened. In Egypt, the police used Facebook to track down protesters’ names before rounding them up. Again, this is nothing new and certainly not unprecedented. What is new, however, is how Sudan’s President Bashir leveraged Facebook to crack down on recent protests.

The Sudanese government reportedly set up a Facebook group calling for protests on a given date at a specific place. Thousands of activists promptly subscribed to this group. The government then deliberately changed the time of the protests on the day of to create confusion and stationed police at the rendez-vous point where they promptly arrested several dozen protestors in one swoop. There are also credible reports that many of those arrested were then tortured to reveal their Facebook (and email) passwords.

And that’s not all. Earlier this week, Bashir called on his supporters to use Facebook to push back against his opposition. According to this article from the Sudan Tribune, the state’s official news agency also “cited Bashir as instructing authorities to pay more attention towards extending electricity to the countryside so that the younger citizens can use computers and internet to combat opposition through social networking sites such as Facebook.”

So what are activists to do? If they use false names, they run the risk of getting their accounts shut down without warning. Using a false identity won’t prevent you from falling for the kind of mouse trap that the Bashir government set with their fabricated Facebook page. Using https won’t help either with this kind of trap and I understand that some regimes can block https access anyway. So what to do if you are in a precarious situation with a sophisticated repressive regime on your back and if, like 99% of the world’s population, you are not an expert in computer security?

1. Back-up your Facebook account: Account –> Account Settings –> Download your information –> Learn more. Click on the Download button.

2. Remove all sensitive content from your Facebook page including links to activist friends, but keep your real name and profile picture. Why? So if you do get arrested and are forced to give up your password, you actually have something to give to your aggressors and remain credible during the interrogation.

3. Create a new Facebook account with a false name, email address and no picture and minimize incriminating content. Yes, I realize this may get you shut down by Facebook but is that as bad as getting tortured?

4. Create an account on Crabgrass. This social networking platform is reportedly more secure and can be used anonymously. A number of activists have apparently switched from Facebook to Crabgrass.

6. If you can do all of the above while using Tor, more power to you. Tor allows you to browse the web anonymously, and this is really important when doing the above. So I highly recommend taking the time to download and install Tor before you do any of the other steps above.

5. Try to validate the authenticity of a Facebook group that calls for a protest (or any in-person event for that matter) before going to said protest. As the Sudan case shows, governments may increasingly use this tactic to arrest activists and thwart demonstrations.

6. Remember that your activist friends may have had their Facebook accounts compromised. So when you receive a Facebook message or a note on your wall from a friend about meeting up in person, try to validate the account user’s identity before meeting in person.

If you have additional recommendations on how to use Facebook safely, or other examples of how repressive regimes have leveraged Facebook, please do add them in the comments section below for others to read and learn. Thank you.

Access to Mobile Phones Increases Protests Against Repressive Regimes

I recently shared a draft of my first dissertation chapter which consists of a comprehensive literature review on the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on Democracy, Activism and Dictatorship. Thanks very much to everyone who provided feedback, I really appreciate it. I will try to incorporate as much of the feedback as possible in the final version and will also update that chapter in the coming months given the developments in Tunisia and Egypt.

The second chapter of my dissertation comprises a large-N econometric study on the impact of ICT access on anti-government protests in countries under repressive rule between 1990 and 2007. A 32-page draft of this chapter is available here as a PDF. I use negative binomial regression analysis to test whether the diffusion of ICTs is a statistically significant predictor of protest events and if so, whether that relationship is positive or negative. The dependent variable, protests, is the number of protests per country-year. The ICT variables used in the model are: Internet users, mobile phone subscribers and number of telephone landlines per country-year. The control variables, identified in the literature review are percentage change in GDP, unemployment rate, the degree of autocracy per country-year, internal war and elections.

A total of 38 countries were included in the study: Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Burma, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, DRC, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. I clustered these countries into 4 groups, those with relatively (1) high and (2) low levels of ICT access; and those with (3) high and (4) low levels of protests per country-year. The purpose of stratifying the data is to capture underlying effects that may be lost by aggregating all the data. So I ran a total of 5 regressions, one on each of those four country groups and one on all the countries combined.

All five negative binomial regression models on the entire 18-year time panel for the study data were significant. Of note, however, is the non-significance of the Internet variable in all models analyzed. Mobile phones were only significant in the regression models for the “Low Protest” and “High Mobile Phone Use” clusters. However, the relationship was negative in the former case and positive in the latter. In other words, an increase in mobile phone users in countries with relatively high ICTs access, is associated with an increase in the number of protests against repressive regimes. This may imply that social unrest is facilitated by the use of mobile communication in countries with widespread access to mobile phones, keeping other factors constant.

These findings require some important qualifications. First, as discussed in the data section, the protest data may suffer from media bias. Second, the protest data does not provide any information on the actual magnitude of the protests. Third, economic data on countries under repressive rule need to be treated with suspicion since some of this data is self-reported. For example, authoritarian regimes are unlikely to report the true magnitude of unemployment in their country. ICT data is also self-reported. Fourth, the data is aggregated to the country-year level, which means potentially important sub-national and sub-annual variations are lost. Fifth and finally, the regression results may be capturing other dynamics that are not immediately apparent given the limits of quantitative analysis.

Qualitative comparative analysis is therefore needed to test and potentially validate the results derived from this quantitative study. Indeed, “perhaps the best reason to proceed in a qualitative and comparative way is that the categories of ‘democracy’ and ‘technology diffusion’ are themselves aggregates and proxies for other measurable phenomena” (Howard 2011). Unpacking and then tracing the underlying causal connections between ICT use and protests requires qualitative methodologies such process-tracing and semi-structured interviews. The conceptual framework developed in Chapter 2 serves as an ideal framework to inform both the process-tracing and interviews. The next chapter of my dissertation will thus introduce two qualitative case studies to critically assess the impact of ICTs on state-society relations in countries under repressive rule. In the meantime, I very much welcome feedback on this second chapter from iRevolution readers.

Maps, Activism and Technology: Check-In’s with a Purpose

“Having a real-time map, complete with satellite photos, of where everyone is at any one moment is almost as good as having your own helicopter overhead — maybe better, if you can distract the crew of the helicopter.”

As recently announced on the Ushahidi blog, the group is launching a check-in service a la Foursquare called “Crowdmap : Check-In’s” or just CI for short. I’m excited by the different applications that a free and open-source check-in-with-a-purpose platform can have for social impact. In this blog post, I’ll share some ideas on how activists might use CI for popular nonviolent movements when the service is launched next month at SxSW 2011. I will also highlight another very cool project called Sukey, which was just launched in the UK.

Services like Foursquare provide a location-based mobile social networking platform that allows users to check-in at different venues to earn points and connect with friends. CI will work in a similar way but will allow users to create their very own “Foursquares”. This means that CI’s can be project- or group-specific, i.e., bounded to certain networks. Users will decide themselves where and what kind of points and badges to award to members of their CI network.

This quick check-in service has obvious applications for students coordinating nonviolent protests, especially when they need to rapidly adapt to a changing situation. I this saw again recently in Egypt when pro-Mubarak thugs were swarming certain avenues of downtown Cairo. I recall seeing a picture shared on Twitter with tactical drawings suggesting where anti-Mubarak protestors should position themselves as a result. This was drawn on a screenshot taken from satellite imagery of an area in the center of Cairo. (I spent an hour trying to find the original picture again but to no avail, so if you know which one I’m referring to, please get in touch. The one below is for illustration only).

With Internet and cell phone networks back up, protesters could use a check-in service to let others know where the thugs are being sighted and to recommend different locations to retreat or advance to. This would be a like a geo-tagged status update that could also be shared on your Facebook page or Twitter feed (minding the security implications). In addition, one could have pre-designated tags like “Thugs here”, “Don’t go here”, “Evacuate” etc., to avoid having to type when checking in. Call it the Q-CI feature, quick check-in’s.

These alerts or status updates could then be embedded geographically, something like geo-caching. So if I happen to check in within a hundred meters of someone who just recently updated their CI status as “evacuate”, I would get an immediate pop-up message showing me these nearby updates. Someone helping to coordinate the protests remotely from a laptop could quickly embed areas (rather than points) as  no-go zones if one or more updates show up with the tag “evacuate” at a given venue. Integrating Ushahidi’s new geometry mapping feature would make this possible.

A related project that I really like comes from the same student group in the UK that used live tactical mapping for protest swarming last year. The team has since designed and launched their very own mobile check-in platform to facilitate tactical maneuvering during demonstrations, keep protesters safe and avoid kettling:

“Kettling, also known as containment or corralling, is a police tactic for the management of large crowds during demonstrations or protests. It involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit, determined by the police, or are completely prevented from leaving” (1).

The project, called Sukey, is an excellent example of Maptivism. The name comes from the nursery rhyme: “Polly put the kettle on, Sukey take it off again.”

All you have to do is point your smart phone browser (it doesn’t have to be an iPhone!) to http://www.sukey.org/a to access the tactical map. The screenshot above is from their entertaining and helpful tutorial which you can access here. I really like the use of their simple “safety compass” which gives you immediate situational awareness about which direction safety (and danger) lies. The compass is specific to your GPS location and is updated in real-time as new reports are submitted by activists. These reports can be shared with all the other protesters and appear in the red box below the map.

If you don’t have a smart phone, Sukey relays updates via their Twitter feed which users can subscribe to via SMS thanks to Twitter’s SMS-following service. All you need to do is text “follow @sukeysms” to 8644. What if you forgot your phone at home? One protester noted that “Everyone who was getting the Sukey updates was telling everyone who wasn’t what was happening.”

As an unhappy security analyst recently noted,

“The proliferation of highly capable handheld ‘smartphones’ now makes it easy for protest organizers to communicate by voice, text and images, even with real-time video. The protesters may have more watchers and observation points than the police, and actually outpace the police in quantity and quality of intelligence. Having this kind of information available has made it possible for disrupters to create decoy incidents to draw resources away from where they are needed most. Having a real-time map, complete with satellite photos, of where everyone is at any one moment is almost as good as having your own helicopter overhead — maybe better, if you can distract the crew of the helicopter.”

Protesters claim they successfully avoided police kettling this week by using Sukey. If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend this excellent piece by the UK Guardian on the project. I think Ushahidi can learn a lot from this group so I will be meeting with the team in London next month. In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to SxSW and Sukey II. In a future post, I’ll describe how check-in’s-with-a-purpose platforms can also be used for humanitarian relief and disaster response.

Using a Map to Bear Witness in Egypt #Jan25

[Cross-posted from the Ushahidi blog]

The Cairo-based Development and Institutionalization Support Center (DISC) has just launched their #U-Shahid map below. DISC previously used the Ushahidi platform to monitor the country’s Parliamentary Elections last November and December  (see this post for more info). This means they already know the technology and have a trained network of active crisis mappers that can verify reports before they are mapped.

The events in Egypt over the past two weeks have been nothing short of unprecedented. The Mubarak regime clamped down on many forms of communication including the Internet, cell phones and SMS. There were also reports of landline phones being blocked. The word still go out, however. And with Internet access now restored, the map will get out as well just as it did in the Sudan over the past few days.

DISC has mapped some 50 reports based on events that took place over the past week. Take this report below, for example, which includes a YouTube video of protests. The map includes dozens of categories, including Riots, Breaking and looting, Arrests, Violence against protesters, Spraying water and Firing tear gas, for example.

Notice how DISC has made it very easy to share information on individual events by allow direct Tweeting, Facebook posting, etc.

The group has also enabled the subscribe to alerts feature, which allows individuals to automatically get reports sent to their email and cell phone.

Since Egypt just got back online, we expect the map to receive more reports in the coming days. Perhaps the group may also end up using the dedicated Ushahidi smart phone apps to distribute the mapping further.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) launched this Jan 25th CrowdMap in Cairo days before the regime shut down Internet access. It hasn’t been updated since but there are now discussions about reactivating the map to provide information on the location of ATMs, for example.

An ongoing and pressing concern about these maps (and others) is of course security. Crisis maps can depict important information that can be used for good and ill. We hope local groups that use these tools in non-permissive environments take every precaution possible when doing so as repressive regimes are becoming more sophisticated in electronic surveillance.  To learn more about communicating safely in such situations, we recommend some of the following links:

Crisis mapping is redefining the way we think about maps. Today’s maps are alive and dynamic. They are not hard copy static objects like this historical map of Ancient Egypt dating from 1,450 BC. Maps, like books, were written by the winners, the elite. They reflected and projected power. They depicted a fixed reality through one lens.

Today’s crisis maps can give voice to the distributed voiceless. They integrate tools like email, SMS, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. What does this all add up to? “Will the triangulated crisis map be regarded as the new first draft of history?” asks New York Times journalist Anand Giridharadas. He considers some of the implications in this excellent piece,

“They say that history is written by the victors. But now, before the victors win, there is a fresh chance to scream out, with a text message that will not vanish. What we would know about what passed between Turks and Armenians, between Germans and Jews — and indeed would it have happened at all — if each of them had had a chance to declare and be heard saying: ‘I was here, and this is what happened to me?'”