Tag Archives: revolution

Appy New Year!

Wishing everyone a very happy, productive and peaceful 2012.  My gift to you…

2011 by numbers:

1 new country, South Sudan, added to the world.

199 bloggers arrested, 31% increase on 2010 (Reporters Without Borders).

248 days from the first protests in Libya to the death of Colonel Gadaffi (15th February-20th October).

3,100 people arrested in connection with the Summer riots in England (BBC)

3,500 protesters killed in Syria (UN figures Nov 2011).

2 million people gather in Tahrir Square, Cairo, to demand the resignation of President Mubarak.

6.5 million people download Angry Birds on Christmas day.

Goodnight.

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The Heroes and Villans of London Town.

It is amazing how much you realise your love for a place when it is threatened. I have lived in Hackney on and off for 12 years, sometimes experimenting with other parts of London but always returning and finally settling here.

My flat borders three areas which were targeted on Monday night: Mare Street, the Pembury estate on Clarence Road and Kingsland Road. A long night spent glued to the news, Facebook, Twitter and the view from my window for the best part of 12 hours, while fielding calls and messages from concerned family and friends in other parts of the world and down the road. My very own situation room. While I couldn’t see much from the window and could only hear sirens and helicopters, footage from Twitter and YouTube showed a bus on fire round the corner, major clashes on Clarence Road and Turkish shopkeepers defending Kingsland Road. Even the brand new library was attacked. It was like I had my own satellites focused on the area.

Information was easy to find but hard to digest. There was up to the minute reporting from Paul Lewis of The Guardian on the ground, regularly using Twitter to ask where he should report from next (although he repeatedly misspelt Pembury as ‘Penbury’), footage of an inspiring woman giving the rioters a massive telling off, depressing footage of an injured man being mugged and aphotograph of a woman jumping from a burning building. Those rioting didn’t have a lot to say so everyone else said it for them. Not to ever justify looting, but if they had been stealing food instead of TVs and trainers, the root cause could not have been ignored. So much is to be written on the cause and effects, heroes and villans, but this article is very good (thank you to Dom for sending it to me).

On Tuesday morning, information kept coming, opinions were formed and I noticed all the bins had disappeared from the street. We were treated to an embarrassing display from Fiona Armstrong interviewing Darcus Howe on the BBC. Just watch, it’s awful. The anarchist group Solfed released the most comprehensive comment on the situation and don’t get me started on Nick Griffin’s insights into the situation. Clarence Road seemed to be the only place not yet scrubbed of any trace of the night before. The road was scorched, reporters were still out in force, people were watching shop windows being replaced and when a van crushed the back of a car while turning into the road it was barely noticed.

Theresa May held the fort while Cameron and Boris decided whether or not to come back from holiday. She said “we don’t do water cannons” and I agree. After water cannons are sent in, then what? My feeling is that the use of these would have aggravated and prolonged the situation by days as there is suddenly a legitimate reason to riot against police brutality at that moment, which until now appears to have been restrained. But most importantly, despite Cameron stating there is free rein on “whatever tactics police feel they need to employ”, England does not possess any water cannons. They could be shipped over from Ireland, but due to recent unrest there I doubt the request would be accommodated. Bring in the army? Instead, they brought the Northumbria police. Coming from Newcastle myself, I would advise anyone still bent on trouble to run away fast. Joking aside, the threat of rubber bullets and an extra 10,000 police officers, swelling the numbers from 6,000 on Monday night to 16,000 on Tuesday night, seems to have calmed London but other areas of the country are suffering. It will be interesting to calculate the monetary cost of the policing and clean up compared to the amount of cuts to services in each borough. We may be right back where we started.

This year we have seen Twitter and Facebook praised for helping to mobilise protests in the Middle East and companies falling over themselves to be associated with revolutions (yes you, Vodaphone). In London, Blackberry’s marketing department must be deep in its own COBRA meeting over how to avoid the “Blackberry Riots” tag after reports its BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) app was used extensively to organise looting. BBM quickly allows the user to instantly message groups (one-to-many) even when there is no mobile phone signal and all for free, unlike PAYG texting. Using BBM is not like posting to social networks as it is encrypted, a feature which appealed to the original target consumer: business. Lots of young people now own Blackberry’s because they are cheaper than IPhones, heavily endorsed by celebrities and come in lots of shiny colours. 37% of British teens prefer Blackberry over other smartphones according to a recent OFCOM survey.

Whether Blackberry owner Research In Motion (RIM) will hand over details of encrypted messages to police or not is yet to be seen, although making public that it would cooperate with authorities led to its blog being hacked and a message being posted including :

“Dear Rim; You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a blackberry will get charged for no reason at all…”

British authorities are not alone in this request, Indian authorities requested access to BBM messages last year citing “security fears”. These are some familiar tactics more commonly associated with authoritarian regimes, along with facial recognition technology which was used to identify protesters during the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 and is now being used to identify looters and calls to cut the BBM service altogether, as Egypt did with its internet. While British authorities are not using this technology to arrest legitimate protesters but those who committed crimes, they need to be careful of what they condemn in other countries and condone at home.

I’ve written nearly a thousand words here, but one tweet I read today sums up both the role of technology and the riots themselves in under 140 characters: You can’t close Pandora’s box.

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Response: Did the Internet matter in Tunisia and Egypt?

In response to Nabila Ramdani’s article and podcast on opendemocracy.net:

Freedom of information is now perceived as one of the biggest threats to governments on the verge of collapse.  Knowledge, at last, is power.  The part played by the relatively new phenomenon of social media in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings certainly has value, in the speed at which information spread and the potential to mobilise people, but we shouldn’t be too hasty in crowning social media as the catalyst for revolution.

Social media sites are not free spaces, as Ramdani claims in the podcast with Tony Curzon Price, they are private companies with terms and conditions, run for profit. As Ethan Zuckerman wrote (and recently quoted by Sam Gregory of Witness),

‘Hosting your political movement on YouTube is a little like trying to hold a rally in a shopping mall. It looks like a public space, but it’s not – it’s a private space, and your use of it is governed by an agreement that works harder to protect YouTube’s fiscal viability than to protect your rights of free speech.’

It is uncomfortable to see civil unrest in the Middle East defined by the social media outlet used to publicise it.  To call the Egyptian uprising ‘The Facebook Revolution’ (and Ramdani is not the only one guilty of this) is frankly insulting. A revolution cannot be branded and we should be skeptical of companies using their incidental involvement as a marketing tool and opportunity for brand development amidst chaos and suffering. Is ‘The MySpace Uprising’ coming soon? I hear they could do with the publicity.

It is indeed telling that a government in a state of emergency will shut down the internet before rolling in the tanks.  Ramdani states that ‘Internet Service Providers were shut down’ [in Tunisia and Egypt], but this didn’t stop the revolution; so really how big a part did the internet play? In his article ‘Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted’, Malcolm Gladwell wrote, ” Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools.”  In short, PCs don’t start a revolution, people do.

There is also the very real issue of how to protect activists using platforms which jeopardise their anonymity.  Morosov highlights in ‘The Net Delusion’ how social media can be used against activists, for example surveillance, and this issue needs to be seriously addressed before social media can claim its place alongside the revolutionaries.

Morodov and Gladwell’s arguments were not proved wrong by events in Tunisia and Egypt, they highlight the urgent need for enforcing the right to freedom of expression and reinforce a note of caution. If these tools are indeed now a staple of advocacy, activists need to learn to protect their safety and security online as well as offline and out on the streets.

Would these events have happened if social media didn’t exist? We must remember the initial event that resulted in the fall of two dictators, uprisings across the Middle East and a newfound empowerment of the people. The suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia on December 17th 2010, was not posted on Facebook.

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International Women’s Day 2011: Women and Technology

There were some amazing happenings to celebrate International Women’s Day this week… even the bizarre (but arguably, valiant) effort  by ITN with their promo featuring Daniel Craig . The sun was shining and I flitted from a vigil outside the Swaziland embassy to a protest in Trafalgar Square to a talk at Amnesty International HQ, all the while receiving texts from the ladies I love celebrating, well, us.  I thought about my great-grandmother, who kept the family business running during the First World War and turned a handsome profit; my grandmother, who is very much the leader of our pack; my business executive mother, who was expected to give up work when she married my father (she happily informed  my father’s employer that as she was the bigger earner, this would not be happening) and the cunning entrepreneurs and creatives in my gang who are quietly smashing the glass ceiling.

Women are increasingly utilising technology to combat discrimination and change cultural norms.  During the Egyptian protests calling for the resignation of Mubarak, one of the poster girls was 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz.  Her vlog was a call to arms, radical in her own right, daring  the men of Cairo to accompany her to Tahrir Square.  Predictably, she received threats for daring to consider stepping outside unaccompanied, let alone joining the crowds on the street.  Sam Gregory from Witness recently blogged about how to combat the growing issue of visual anonymity in video and protect the vulnerable.  This will be discussed more in Witness’ upcoming report ‘Cameras Everywhere’ and word on the street is that Witness are also developing a new app around this area which should definitely be worth a look.

There has been a surge of initiatives to tackle street harassment of women and end its cultural acceptance. Comments to women about their appearance dished out by strangers on the street, from passing cars or on public transport, are not flattering or complementary- they are insincere and intimidating. Have you ever met a couple who got together after he shouted ‘nice arse’ at her while waiting at the traffic lights? The worse thing is, it’s accepted as part of being female and only really discussed amongst groups of girls like it’s a secret, which is a real shame as the boys I know were horrified to find out how widespread this kind of behaviour is as, obviously, it never happens when they are around.

Back to Egypt, I have been keeping an eye on the  Harrassmap project since it started at the end of 2010. This is an SMS service for women to text in incidents of catcalling, touching and worse on the streets of Egypt which are then mapped.  A similar initiative, Hollaback,  exists in the USA and UK as an app and a map and is currently being rolled out worldwide.  I like to think of these as a virtual alternative to a Mace spray, but what exactly will happen to the data once it is collected? Let’s hope these projects have teeth and go some way to changing cultural norms and encourage women to speak out about the unspoken.

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