Reviewing the American Red Cross Social Media Strategy Handbook

July 6, 2009

Wendy Harman at the American Red Cross just posted a draft of their proposed Social Media Strategy Handbook.   We think it is great.

Note, this is only a screenshot.  Unfortunately WordPress doesn't let you embed Google presentations yet.

One of the core tenants of HFP is that humanitarian aid organisations must become more savvy with social network technologies (and tactics).  This collaborative document, built on top of the shared policies of many other organisations, is an excellent example of this is practice.

The document is remarkable in at least three ways:

  1. It was produced collaboratively, built upon the shared policies of other organisations.
  2. It is being shared over the web, in full and in an easily shared format, for comment and discussion
  3. It is very clever, practice relevant, and a great example of practising what you preach

The entire strategy can be found here as a text version.  The Google Docs slideshow is excellent as well.  Well done Wendy!


Internet “not so hot” at motivating action

May 18, 2009

nader

Social activist Ralph Nader suggests that the Internet “doesn’t do a very good job of motivating action” in a recent speech.

In a great review of a recent Ralph Nader speech over at, Ars Technica, long time social activist Ralph Nader suggests that, while excellent for gathering information, use of the web as a social activism tool may be limited.

The Internet has become more of an extension of market life than civic culture, he warned, the latter dwarfed by the shopping mall. Nader asked the students to indicate by a show of hands how many had ever been to a city council meeting or a court trial as an observer. Then, he queried, how many had been to Wal-Mart or McDonalds? The audience was understandably reluctant to cooperate with this rhetorical set-up, but everybody got the point.

“In fact, it’s worse now than ever,” he scolded the students. “You spend six times longer listening to music than we did when we were your age. And last I knew there were only 24 hours in the day. And you’re always on the [at this point Nader mimicked a cell phone] ‘Where are you? Two blocks away?’ Massive trivialization of communications.”

Sure, Nader conceded, there’s moveon.org. “They generate a lot of e-mails. But then it goes down fast after that, in terms of anything else.” And then there was the Obama online victory. But “they’re wondering why their 13 million e-mail list isn’t translating into a power force on Congress, to get his agenda through.”

The problem, Nader warned, is that whatever benefits the Internet offers, “it’s a huge consumption of trivial time. That’s the real negative. You can just lose yourself.”

He challenged the young crowd to project themselves years into the future, talking to their grandchildren. “What are you going to say to them?” he rhetorically asked.

“You know. The world is melting down. They’re nine years old. They’re sitting on your lap. They’ve just become aware of things that are wrong in the world: starvation, poverty, whatever. And they ask you, what were you doing when all this was happening: Grandma? Grandpa? That you were too busy updating your profile on Facebook?””

“Are big corporations afraid of the public use of the Internet? Does Congress fear the civic use of the Internet? Does the Pentagon fear the civic use of the Internet? Those are the questions you want to ask,” Ralph Nader told an auditorium of college students in Washington, DC on Monday. “My tentative conclusion,” he continued, “is that the Internet doesn’t do a very good job of motivating action.”

Commentary

This is an interesting counter trend to the “Twitter is Salvation” crowd, which I’ve found echoed in many places recently.

For example, at a recent futures workshop for consultancy outsights, Vinay Gupta suggested that the web was useful for organising people around some kinds of problems, some of the time.  It was suggested that problems requiring extensive, drawn-out collaboration between large groups tended not to work on the Internet, where problems requiring short, quick intervention do.  See the recent success of flashmobs or crowd sourced fundraising for some examples of successful mass collaborations empowered by the web.

But are these really collaborations?  What about the really difficult, contentious things?  Research has found that the web actually tends to fragment political dialogue more than unite it.

Does the web actually promote collective social action around difficult, collaboration, negotiation intensive problems?  Or does it just facilitate the quick and easy wins, leading to ever greater political and social fragmentation?


Us Now: a new film about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet

May 11, 2009

“In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?”

A new film highlights some of the amazing possibilities and new potentials of mass collaboration and its impact on governance.

From the website:

New technologies and a closely related culture of collaboration present radical new models of social organisation. This project brings together leading practitioners and thinkers in this field and asks them to determine the opportunity for government.

“We are living in a different world now. THe value of the human being, the connected human being is coming through.” - JP Rangaswami

The site has an amazing collection of clips and interviews, which can be found here.  I was struck by how one Alan cox, an open source software pioneer, reflected upon the impact of these approaches on political power.  In the video below, he states that such tools aren’t having that big of an impact on power yet, because the people who benefit from them are so far down the political food chain.  But as with projects such as the One Laptop Per Child programme, such tools offer the benefit of vast amounts of education and information to those traditionally deprived from it, this sowing the seeds, potentially, for future change.  This is a beautifully real assessment of open-source which gets beyond much of the management hype.

Explore the entire site, or skip directly to the page with wonderful video interview clips.


Twitter and the online revolution in Moldova

April 7, 2009

An anonymous reader on slashdot writes:

“Reacting to allegedly fraudulent election procedures, students are storming the presidency and parliament of the small eastern European country of Moldova. It is reported that they used Twitter to organize. Currently twitter and blogs are being used to spread word of what is happening since all national news websites have been blocked. If the 1989 Romanian revolution was the first to be televised, is this the first to be led by twitter and social networks?”

Jamie points out this interesting presentation (from March 2008) by Ethan Zuckerman about the realities of online activism, including how governments try to constrain it.

UPDATE 1 - Daniel Korski from Global Dashboard writes:

Text messaging played a key role in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, but in Moldova they have gone one step further and are using Twitter to organise the days’ events. As this blogpost explains,  the most popular discussions on Twitter in the last 48 hours have been posts marked with thetag “#pman“, which is short for “Piata Marii Adunari Nationale”, the main square in Chisinau, where the protesters began their marches.

The BBC reports here.


Mobile phone viruses; ruining a crowdsource near you soon

April 6, 2009

virus-spread1

A new study by network analysts suggest that mobile phones may soon pass a critical threshold, after which viruses could become a crippling fact of life.

Academic paper here, supporting web material here, and a very good CBC summary here.

From the CBC article:

There have been no major outbreaks of computer viruses among smartphones because no smartphone operating system is popular enough to let a virus to spread effectively — yet, a new study suggests.

The data also predict that once a single smartphone operating system gains a critical percentage of the entire mobile phone market, viruses could start to pose “a serious threat” to mobile communications, said the study released Thursday in Science Express.

Smartphones “are poised to become the dominant communication device in the near future, raising the possibility of virus breakouts that could overshadow the disruption caused by traditional computer viruses,” said the paper by Pu Wang and other researchers at Northwestern University.

The implications for the excitement around crowdsourced, mobile mapping, and similar mobile technologies for humanitarian aid should be obvious and terrifying.


G20 update; crowdsourced crisis information live

April 1, 2009

crisisjpg

More cameras than protesters?

It appears that the amount of media presence, Internet and otherwise, is having a large magnifying effect on the perception of the protests themselves.  A Google blog search at 16:36 found over 997,000 blog hits for “G20 protesters“, over 3 million web pages, and nearly 15,000 news items.  That is probably several orders of magnitude higher than the number of protesters actually at the site.

Traffic on Twitter seems mixed, with a large amount of discussion on the role and impact of the media.  Notes such as;

4.28pm:
On Twitter, Snufkin21 says Stop the War protesters booed the mediapresent “for hyping up the G20 violence”. The huge media presence has been criticised by a number of people on Twitter who believe it’s encouraged extreme elements to “play to the gallery”.

Are intermixed with live accounts such as;

4.07pm: 
Police on horses have carried out two charges down Threadneedle Street in a bid to disperse protesters, says Alok Jha, who is at the scene. Alok said everything had been calm beforehand and demonstrators have not been impressed by the police response.

Mixed messages

There are a variety of conflicting claims being made, about the magnitude of violence, the presence of the media, and the reaction of the police.  Reading the Twitter feed directly (Twitter search, #G20) yields a confusing array of opinion, advice, updates, and news items.  Including the following excerpts;

DanSpringWell done the Police today at #G20. Felt safe in Romford disaster recovery office!

pgb63Stephen Harper tasered at G20!

AcostafGetting far away from #G20, Cannon st and London Bridge working as normal

Protests + Internet = Force Multiplier

This is an interesting mix of content, coming fast and furious from all angles.  It is reminiscent of  many aspects of the ongoing discussion between Paul Currion and Patrick Meier, about the issues around crowdsourced crisis data.  Paul writes that, “crowdsourcing is unfamiliar, it’s untested in the field and it makes fairly large claims that are not well backed by substantial evidence.”

Among it’s dangers, we argue, is the rapid magnification of false or intentionally deceptive data.  Patrick calls this “crisis magnification“.  We discussed it in depth in here.  What we are seeing with the G20 protests in an excellent example of this.  No matter what is actually happening on the ground, there is a massive, unfiltered, and confusing amount of information being generated. 

Here comes everysource

While we can argue that this massive generation of fresh live content is a good thing (as Patrick does here), it is clearly a new thing, with uncertain outcomes and value.  Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody”, writes about the problem of filtering this massive amount of information.

The old ways of filtering were neither universal nor ideal [referring to TV and print]…  Mass amateurization has created a filtering problem vastly larger than we had with traditional media; so much larger, in fact, that many of the old ways are simply broken.

What is interesting, he notes, is that although it is possible to for everyone to read anyone’s blog, Twitter feed, or website, it is not possible for anyone to read everyone’s information.  

In fact this isn’t the way it works.  The vast majority of this content is generated by people close to or within your social network (personal or professional) and is intended for people close to or within your social network.  Web 2.0 and social media has taught us that although there may be over 250 million blogs on the Internet, the vast majority of this information is local, read by practically no one, and only intended for your friends and colleagues. 

Crowdsourced crisis information FOR YOUR FRIENDS

Could the same principle apply to crowdsourced crisis information?  Crowdsourced crisis information won’t be broadcast in the traditional sense, with millions of people listening to a single source.  Instead, communities of trust and relationships will build over time, with individual air workers, responders, and agencies building networks of trusted information sources just as we build networks of trusted friendships.

It isn’t as if field workers and disaster responders will go to any old Twitter feed they find and trust any bit of information they get texted about.  As in all social media, they will go to the ones they trust first.  Crowdsourcing doesn’t change this, it just lower the bar of entry for participating in the conversation.

Paradoxically, this new flood of information might end up having the opposite effect; crisis responders who only pay attention to their trusted sources and ignore the “weak signals” flooding in from all sides at once.  

Or maybe the opposite might happen?  Maybe the promise of crowdsourced crisis information has nothing to do with aid responders.  Maybe it will work just like Facebook, MySpace, and other forms of social media work.  A bomb goes off in your neighbourhood, you text your friends, who Twitter their work colleagues, who call their parents, who write a blog post read only by their cousins.  Maybe the AP will pick it up, maybe there will be value for figuring out how many dead and wounded need treatment.  

But at the end of the day, perhaps crowdsourced crisis information isn’t all that different from any kind of shared information; it all depends on who you talk to.


G20 protests live and networked

April 1, 2009

axes1

There are a series of very interesting developments around the G20 protests in London today, indicative of new uses of technology for advocacy and collaboration.

Twitter / live blogging

The Guardian has a liveblog of protest related events, found here.  They post an interesting Twitter roundup, as below:

9.18am: 
Twitter round up:

Last Hours: “Cops & security guards on every corner of the city.”

Christian Action: “Lots of jeans & trainers in City today. Strange air of anticipation.”

Russell Brand: “Today at the Bank at noon I shall be protesting by being enraptured with joy and beauty and not being bludgeoned into tedium.”

Pop Chris “Staff @ RBS, Bishopsgate are told that once in, they cannot leave the building until end of business. Expecting the worst.

Visualization

Also from the Guardian, a very beautiful interactive visualization, scenario planning style, of different groups involved in the protests.

Live video

G20 Voice is streaming live video from different events, here.  They also have a Twitterstream here.


G20 activists hope Twitter will give them the edge over the police

March 30, 2009

molotove

The Times (of all places!) reports on the use of Twitter by ‘militants’ to plan protests in London ahead of the G-20 meeting here, today.

“Militant demonstrators aiming to disrupt next week’s G20 summit will use Twitter and text message alerts to stay one step ahead of a massive police operation.”

You don’t say?  Young politically active groups using mobile technology to out-organise, out-think, and out-maneuver stodgy old bureaucracies dedicated to defending the status quo using mid-20th century conceptual frameworks?  Quelle surprise!

UPDATE – As of Sunday, the protest didn’t seem to amount to much of a system disruption.  See the Guardian article here.

UPDATE 2 – Middle-class academics, squatters and students” must use Twitter too.  I bet Marx would have used Twitter if he could have figured out how to sync his Blackberry.


IDP camp, internet cafe, or participatory panopticon?

March 25, 2009

wifi-idp

Fulbright scholar Jon Marino, reports on the use of the web in the Coo Pe IDP Camp in Uganda.

Take a walk through Coo Pe IDP Camp (Coo Pe literally means “no men” in Acholi/Luo) in northern Uganda and you are liable to stumble across something that may surprise you.  Thanks to Project BOSCO, residents of Coo Pe have access to the internet, either via a wireless network, or by using a solar-powered PC stationed in the camp.

He writes that the project was, “initially conceived as an emergency-response system that would give camp residents the power to share the oppression they were experiencing at the hands of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government with the outside world. However, now that relative peace has returned to the region, the technology is helping people with the rebuilding process. Farmers are using the wiki to share ideas about re-introducing crops. Human rights monitors are using it to highlight corruption and abuse. Schools are using it to access online newspapers for free.”

The rise of the participatory panopticon

This is another excellent example, like the Kakuma News Reflector, of IT tools empowering people from the ground up.  Futurist Jamais Cacao suggests that, taken to its logical conclusion, this trend could soon result in something like world-wide, voluntary, mega-monitoring of all our daily activities.  And not by Big Brother, but by ourselves, for our own various ends.

In The Rise of the Participatory Panopticon, he writes,

Soon — probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two — we’ll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing.And we will be doing it to ourselves.

This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily.

I call this world the Participatory Panopticon.

Implications for aid and development futures

This has both exciting and terrifying implications for development and aid provision.  At the recent HFP Stakeholder’s Forum, a participant raised the question, “what would happen if aid agencies and their insurers instituted mandatory drug testing of all field employees?  How many of us are on anti-depressants and stimulants and what impact would this have on staffing?”  

Another issue raised was the ever increasing efforts for HQ to control field workers through such technological means.  What if every action was being recorded and could later be used for investigation, inquiry, or even law suits?  

Although the prospect has many positive aspects, such as better monitoring of human rights abuses, exposure of corruption and graft, etc., the participatory panopticon is clearly a powerful and game-changing trend which could fundamentally alter the way aid is planned, delivered, and received.

 


Political net attacks on the rise

March 25, 2009

 

Kevin Siers, North Carolina - Editorial cartoons from the Charlotte Observer

Kevin Siers, North Carolina - Editorial cartoons from the Charlotte Observer

The MIT Technology Review has an excellent interview with a series of Internet security experts, which finds that politically motivated net attacks are sharply on the rise.

When armed conflict flared up between Russia and Georgia last summer, the smaller country also found itself subject to a crippling, coordinated Internet attack. An army of PCs controlled by hackers with strong ties to Russian hacking groups flooded Georgian sites with dummy requests, making it near impossible for them to respond to legitimate traffic. The attacks came fast and furious, at times directing 800 megabits of data per second at a targeted website.

Wikipedia defines a denial-of-service attack (DOS) as ” an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users”.  The US Computer Emergency Response Team has an overview here, observing that most DOS attacks involve:

  • unusually slow network performance (opening files or accessing web sites)
  • unavailability of a particular web site
  • inability to access any web site
  • dramatic increase in the amount of spam you receive in your account
  • While this is merely inconvenient for most public websites, such attacks effect every aspect of the internet and can be used to cripple email, file transfers, intranets, and all means of web-based communication.

    Better use of cyber infrastructure, including such net attacks, will be an increasingly common trend in the future.  Imagine if aid agencies themselves become the target of such attacks?  What if the humanitarian expulsion from Darfur also involved sophisticated efforts to cripple aid groups at their core, vis-a-vis target denial of service attacks? 

    UPDATE – Paul Currion, as usual, has a fantastic example of this kind of thing from Sudan, posted mere hours before this one!  Well done Paul and thanks for the link!

    UPDATE 2 – Humanitarian.info provides more examples on how this is already affected aid agencies (“Denial of service = denial of reality”).  It seems our “hypothetical” question about Darfur has actually already happened.  Do any other HFP Blog readers out there know of similar attacks on aid agencies and NGO’s?


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