Democracy is rarely discussed nowadays without reference to digital technologies. It has become a marriage that sometimes feels like a honeymoon [technology for democracy], and at other times a war zone [technology for autocracy].
An activist in Cairo stated during the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak in early 2011:
We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world [culled from Patrick Meier’s PhD thesis].
Lately, I have been skimming the thesis submission of Ushahidi’s Director of Crisis-Mapping, Patrick Miere. The thesis title goes, Do “Liberation Technologies” Change the Balance of Power Between Repressive States and Civil Society?
Meier’s question is born out of the realisation that the use of ICTs have not resulted in a succesful Arab Spring for most countries in North Africa and the Middle East. He says from Sudan to Bahrain and Syria to Libya, protests have been brutally repressed and thousands of protesters killed.
Meier is asking, “does the change in means of, and access to, information genuinely threaten authoritarian control by shifting the balance of power between state and society?”
Today on Washington Post’s Politics page, there is story on Obama to target foreign nationals’ use of new technologies in human rights abuses.
I quote from the report:
Social media and cellphone technology have been widely credited with helping democracy advocates organize against autocratic governments and better expose rights violations, most notably over the past year and a half in the Middle East and North Africa…but authoritarian governments…have shown that their security services can also harness technology to help crack down on dissent — by conducting surveillance, blocking access to the Internet or tracking the movements of opposition figures.
Obama’s executive order intends to acknowledge those dangers as well as the need to adapt America’s national policy to “a world being remade rapidly by technology”.
The U.S. President will also announce some U.S. development “challenge” grant to encourage technology companies develop new ways to aid residents in countries vulnerable to mass killings better detect and quickly alert others of impending dangers.
The summary of my thoughts on this for now is that the LIMITED power of technology, if it had any at all, is becoming increasingly obvious. It is only logical to accept that the more sophisticated you design ‘liberation technologies’ to be, repressive regimes would not be resting on their oars.
Nigeria seems to be gearing for a follow-up Occupy Nigeria part 2, with the publication of the fuel subsidy report and all the scandalous details contained within …and I am wondering if the role technology is meant to be used to play is really understood, before protesters embark on this mission.
What role do you suppose technology should play in the fight for freedom, corruption or generally, a better democracy?