Tag Archives: Global Voices

LIFT09: Collective Action and Technology

Ramesh Srinivasan and Juliana Rotich spoke about how technologies have changed collective action and solidarity over the past 15 years.

rameshlift09

Ramesh recalled the story of an Indian fishermen who was far out at sea when the Sumatra seaquake launched a tidal wave of Biblical proportions. He had never seen anything like this in his lifetime and used his mobile phone to warn family and friends near the shore and thereby saved many lives. He himself was far enough from the coastline and survived.

Ramesh shared other stories on technology and solidarity. He spoke of  a community-based digital video literacy project in India. In his own words, the project enabled “mobility, dissemination and documentation, claim-making based on documented evidence, community, social capital and kinship,” and “stimulated dialague beyond the focus group.”

In another project, Ramesh explained how the website “Public Grievances & Redressal” designed by the eGovernments Foundation allows Indian citizens to file pubic complaints. Complaints are posted online and only removed when both the plaintiff and designated government official agree that the issue has been resolved. The length of time a complaint remains on the website impacts  future funding for the respective branch of government.

As for the future impact of technology on collective action and  solidarity, Ramesh is concerned that design is being coopted by usability. He also pointed to the growing “mismatch of ontology between the policy world and the local,” which reminded me of James Scott’s Seeing Like a State. Indeed, one of the prinicpal questions that guide both Ramesh and James is: “How do we build websystems that show differences?”

Take Google, for example. While simplicity is a hallmark of the company’s successful websystems, if you Google “Africa” the first link directly relevant to Africa appears only after the second page. This is worrying since the vast majority of web users hardly browse beyond the first page of Google results. Search online is no longer about using the intellectual expanse of the mind but about what what you can find.

julianalift09

My friend and colleague Juliana presented her work with Global Voices and Ushahidi. She spoke about globalism, mobile technology and the Cloud from the perspective of Africa, which was particularly refreshing.

The mobile phone is becoming increasingly important for Africa and, in my opinion, Africa is becoming more important for the world, For example, some 80% of the BBC‘s mobile traffic originates from Africa. Juliana also pointed out how Kenyans now use a free text message service that allows users low on credit to text another person so they can call them back, something called “flashing” or “beeping.” The only catch is that the text comes with a short ad.

Patrick Philippe Meier

International News Coverage in a New Media World

I just had the pleasure of participating in a fascinating panel discussion on the decline of the foreign correspondent and the rise of citizen journalist. The event was hosted by the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communications at George Washington University (GWU) and supported by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

Jeffrey Hirschberg from BBG gave the opening remarks and GWU Professor Steve Roberts moderated the panel, which included Loren Jenkins, Senior Foreign Editor at NPR, Professor Sherry Ricchiardi, Senior Writer at the American Journalism Review (AJR) and Professor at Indian University’s School of Journalism, Bob Dietz with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and myself.

Where to begin? I was definitely the only one on the panel without a formal background in journalism, possibly the only blogger, probably the only one with a YouTube account and most likely the only panelist on Twitter. Inevitably, then, I brought a slightly different perspective, but more importantly, I had the opportunity to learn a lot from my fellow panelists and to understand their perspective on the decline of foreign reporting. It was a truly rich conversation.

Professional journalists engaged in international news are increasingly concerned about the possibility of misinformation and manipulation that may originate from citizen journalists, e.g., through blogs, Twitter, etc. In my opinion, one of the defining roles of the mainstream media is to distinguish between fact and fiction, which means that they play an even more important role in the digital age. The question of journalist standards was also raised, or the lack thereof. within citizen journalism In my opinion, as international news reporting declines and citizen journalists continue to fill the void, the public will expect and come to demand that the latter meet some of the same standards practiced by mainstream media.

Having had the opportunity to interact with numerous bloggers with Global Voices and beyond, I emphasized the fact that reputation for many bloggers is everything. Her or his readership is a function of the person’s reputation and hence credibility and accountability. Over time, as Lauren mentioned, we come to “get to know” and trust a blogger even if we never meet in person. Journalists investigate stories by interviewing sources, there is no reason to discount citizen journalists as valuable sources.

The challenge of validating sources and information is not a new one. There is a trade off between volume of information and the ability to verify that information. This trade off, or continuum, becomes even more acute in rapidly changing situations like the recent carnage in Mumbai.

What we need to keep in mind, however, is that we each have different demands or needs for validity. If you found yourself in downtown Mumbai during the terrorist attacks, you would rather know about rumors spread via Twitter than not. Why? Because at least you’d be able to take precautionary measures should the rumor prove to be true.

Watching the unfolding tragedy from thousands of miles away in the comfort of our own homes, we have less need for expediency, we just want to know what really happened, the facts. However, our demand for facts and rigorous validation should not overshadow the fact that rumors and unverified reports from unknown sources can save lives.

Steve asked Bob whether his work on the protection of journalists should be expanded to citizen journalists. In his response, Bob preempted an important point I had planned to make; namely that the line between citizen journalism and digital activism is becoming increasingly blurred. In the past, documenting human rights abuses and broadcasting this documentation was rarely done by one individual. Today, thanks to YouTube, documenting events is the same as broadcasting events, which is alot about what advocacy is.

This is why it is increasingly important for citizen journalists in repressive environments to interact with digital activists and individuals engaged in strategic nonviolence. As a a fellow blogger of mine recently remarked about her experience covering the post-election violence in Kenya, there is a distinction between being able to speak out and being heard. In most contexts, the former is far easier than the latter. However, if you start being heard, and a government or regime starts to pay attention to what you are blogging, you become a target. It’s a catch 22. Bloggers need to learn from digital activists and strategic nonviolence movements about how to stay safe and how to make maximum use technology to get their message out.

I drew on several examples to highlight the important contribution that citizen journalists are making around the world, from Global Voices to Witness.org. I also highlighted HHI‘s recent work on crisis mapping Kenya to compare mainstream media reports with citizen journalism reports and crowdsourcing reports (via Ushahidi). In the context of Mumbai, I pointed to the incredible speed with which a Wikipedia page was created and maintained fully up to date, with some 900 edits taking place within the first 21 hours of the event. No mainstream media outfit could possibly mimic this crowdsourcing approach without reaching out to citizen journalists.

On Global Voices, I highlighted the important role they are playing in translating (and analyzing) a lot of local news (and other blogs) into English. With the decline in foreign reporting, mainstream media’s role in translating news will also decline. The amount of volume produced by Global Voices during the Mumbai attacks was trully stunning.

I brought up Witness.org because much of the conversation between panelists focused on print media, and how easy it was to mislead readers. Doctoring pictures, let alone footage, is not as easy. The case of Reuters and the doctored photograph of Israeli rockets firing on Lebanon is an exception and far from the rule. It is a very isolated incident when one considers the massive number of pictures printed every day in the mainstream press. Furthermore, I argued thanks to built-in cameras in mobile phones, dozens of different individuals can each take pictures of an event, which serves as a verification mechanism. We don’t need fewer citizen witnesses armed with cameras, we need more.

Two final points, or rather open ended questions for further discussion. First, if we are moving towards a more hyper-local approach to media reports, and if this happens across the globe, then why the concern? Isn’t someone’s local media another’s foreign media? Second, having counted Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media as one of my all time favorite books, how is the media changing now that the political economy is completely changing?

Patrick Philippe Meier

Links: Revolution 2.0, Mumbai Attacks, Response

  • Revolution 2.0 – Obama’s Web Tools Work for Others Too: If I had blogged about this Newsweek article, I would have been quite critical. First, we all know full well that technology can be used for good or ill. Second, the piece focuses exclusively on the negative effects of the Internet’s potential to empower marginalized groups. Third, as a colleague noted, “The writer thinks of marginalized groups like terrorists.  I think of marginalized groups like 90% of the world’s population.”
  • Mumbai Terrorists used Google Earth: In a first in terror strikes in the country, all the 10 terrorists involved in the Mumbai attack got familiar with the terrain of the city by using the Google Earth service, according to sources in the Maharashtra home ministry.
  • Mobiles and Twitter Play Key Role in Mumbai Reporting: Mobiles are yet again playing a key role in citizen reporting as terror attacks grip the Indian city of Mumbai.  Twitter, the microblogging service that is available in India, was especially instrumental in conveying first hand reports as the chaotic events were unfolding in the city.  Twitter users set up aggregator accounts at Mumbai, Bombay@BreakingNews and with the search tag #Mumbai.
  • Citizen Voices and Mumbai Attacks: When news from the developing world dominates the global news agenda, we get a lot of traffic on Global Voices. As the horrific events unfolded in Mumbai this past week, our authors, editors and tech staff began compiling accounts from blogs, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter feeds. You can get a good overview of the use of social media in reporting the Mumbai crisis on our special coverage page.

Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence

Are citizen journalists playing an increasingly important role in documenting violent conflict and human rights violations? I posed this question during the 2008 Global Voices Summit and answered affirmatively—but without more than a hunch and rather limited anecdotal evidence. Paul Curion took issue and David Sasaki recommended that someone carry out an empirical study.

I appreciated David’s practical recommendation and decided to pursue the project since the topic overlaps with the Conflict Early Warning and Crisis Mapping project I’ve been working on at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). Supported by Humanity United, the project seeks to explore the changing role and impact of information communication technology in crisis early warning and humanitarian response.

Seeing that I was in Nairobi visiting my parents during the election violence, I chose Kenya as a case study to assess the role of citizen journalists in crisis environments as compared to the mainstream media. My colleagues Kate Brodock, Briana Kramer and I used event-data analysis to code reports of violent and peaceful events as documented by about a dozen citizen journalist bloggers between December 27, 2007 and January 27, 2008.

We did the same for mainstream media, ranging from print media (national newspapers) to radio and television programs. I also included the Ushahidi data because I wanted to carry out a three way comparison between mainstream news media, citizen journalism and a dedicated crowdsourcing platform.

We then created a Google Earth layer to visualize the data over time and space. Below is a YouTube video I created of the animation (for slower Internet connections). Here is the Google Earth layer (KMZ). The data can also be visualized on Google Maps here.

Yellow icon = mainstream news reports; Blue icon = citizen journalism blogs; Green icon = Ushahidi reports.

A dynamic time line is also available below. The interactive time line depicts the number of daily reports produced by mainstream news, citizen journalists and Ushahidi over the 30-day period of study.

Our preliminary findings:

  • Mainstream media reported actual death count before citizen journalists; however, on many accounts, mainstream media did not report on incidents leading to actual deaths, i.e., early warning signs;
  • Citizen journalist reports and Ushahidi reports did not overlap geographically with mainstream media reports;
  • Citizen journalists tended to report as soon as violence started, well before mainstream media;
  • The number of comments on citizen journalist blogs increased during the 30-day period, or during particular periods of violence;
  • The comment section was also used as a medium for real-time updating;
  • Many citizen journalist bloggers used real-time updates sent to them via SMS, primarily from rural areas;
  • Citizen journalism reports declined after the launch of Ushahidi;
  • Ushahidi reports document an important number of violent events not reported by the mainstream media and citizen journalists;
  • Contrary to news media and citizen journalist reports, Ushahidi data always had specific location information;
  • Ushahidi reports also covered a wider geographical area than both mainstream news and citizen journalist bloggers.

For further information on our project’s methodology and sources, please see this short powerpoint presentation (PDF) which we have also uploaded on Slideshare. For more on crisis mapping, please see this page. For additional information on the role of digital technology during Kenya’s post election violence, see this narrative-based analysis (PDF) by my two colleagues Josh Goldstein and Juliana Rotich.

We look forward to receiving as much feedback as possible so we can improve our methodology and analysis in future case studies. We’re especially keen to have others interpret the dynamics displayed in the animation above. In the meantime, please contact me if you’d like to join the team and contribute to our next case study, which will be of Georgia.

To cite this research, please use: Meier, Patrick and Kate Brodock (2008). “Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence: Comparing Mainstream News, Citizen Journalism and Ushahidi.” (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, HHI, Harvard University: Boston).
URL: http://irevolution.net/2008/10/23/mapping-kenyas-election-violence

Patrick Philippe Meier

Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence

Are citizen journalists playing an increasingly important role in documenting violent conflict and human rights violations? I posed this question during the 2008 Global Voices Summit and answered affirmatively—but without more than a hunch and rather limited anecdotal evidence. Paul Curion took issue and David Sasaki recommended that someone carry out an empirical study.

I appreciated David’s practical recommendation and decided to pursue the project since the topic overlaps with the Conflict Early Warning and Crisis Mapping project I’ve been working on at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). Supported by Humanity United, the project seeks to explore the changing role and impact of information communication technology in crisis early warning and humanitarian response.

Seeing that I was in Nairobi visiting my parents during the election violence, I chose Kenya as a case study to assess the role of citizen journalists in crisis environments as compared to the mainstream media. My colleagues Kate Brodock, Briana Kramer and I used event-data analysis to code reports of violent and peaceful events as documented by about a dozen citizen journalist bloggers between December 27, 2007 and January 27, 2008.

We did the same for mainstream media, ranging from print media (national newspapers) to radio and television programs. I also included the Ushahidi data because I wanted to carry out a three way comparison between mainstream news media, citizen journalism and a dedicated crowdsourcing platform.

We then created a Google Earth layer to visualize the data over time and space. Below is a YouTube video I created of the animation (for slower Internet connections). Here is the Google Earth layer (KMZ). The data can also be visualized on Google Maps here.

Yellow icon = mainstream news reports; Blue icon = citizen journalism blogs; Green icon = Ushahidi reports.

A dynamic time line is also available below. The interactive time line depicts the number of daily reports produced by mainstream news, citizen journalists and Ushahidi over the 30-day period of study.

Our preliminary findings:

  • Mainstream media reported actual death count before citizen journalists; however, on many accounts, mainstream media did not report on incidents leading to actual deaths, i.e., early warning signs;
  • Citizen journalist reports and Ushahidi reports did not overlap geographically with mainstream media reports;
  • Citizen journalists tended to report as soon as violence started, well before mainstream media;
  • The number of comments on citizen journalist blogs increased during the 30-day period, or during particular periods of violence;
  • The comment section was also used as a medium for real-time updating;
  • Many citizen journalist bloggers used real-time updates sent to them via SMS, primarily from rural areas;
  • Citizen journalism reports declined after the launch of Ushahidi;
  • Ushahidi reports document an important number of violent events not reported by the mainstream media and citizen journalists;
  • Contrary to news media and citizen journalist reports, Ushahidi data always had specific location information;
  • Ushahidi reports also covered a wider geographical area than both mainstream news and citizen journalist bloggers.

For further information on our project’s methodology and sources, please see this short powerpoint presentation (PDF) which we have also uploaded on Slideshare. For more on crisis mapping, please see this page. For additional information on the role of digital technology during Kenya’s post election violence, see this narrative-based analysis (PDF) by my two colleagues Josh Goldstein and Juliana Rotich.

We look forward to receiving as much feedback as possible so we can improve our methodology and analysis in future case studies. We’re especially keen to have others interpret the dynamics displayed in the animation above. In the meantime, please contact me if you’d like to join the team and contribute to our next case study, which will be of Georgia.

To cite this research, please use: Meier, Patrick and Kate Brodock (2008). “Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence: Comparing Mainstream News, Citizen Journalism and Ushahidi.” (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, HHI, Harvard University: Boston). URL: http://irevolution.wordpress.com/2008/10/23/mapping-kenyas-election-violence

Patrick Philippe Meier