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Uses of mobile phones for political activism, from Seattle to Manila and Kigali
Global Internet Activism
Week 8 Uses of mobile phones for political activism,
from Seattle to Manila and Kigali
last update: April 8, 2009
Trebor Scholz | LCST 4014 A | Spring 2009
Advocacy, and Art Activism
week 1 Access, Censorship,
Social Media, and the
Citizen Media: from
Seattle to South Korea
War and Social Media: Serbia
War and Social Media: Iraq, Gaza
week 6 Spring Break
War and Social Media: Counter-publics
Iran, Afghanistan in Iran
week 8 week 9
Citizen Media in China
week 10 Japan, Singapore
A Better World in Second Life?
One Laptop Per Child
Cyber Publics in India
Trebor Scholz | The New School University | LCST 4014 A | Spring 2009
Uses of Cell Phones
human rights, activism, and more
decentralized, ad hoc political mobilization
economic development (jobs and education)/ self-sufﬁciency
distribution of subversive messages
public health/data bases
monitoring democratic processes
convergence radio and cell phones
Trebor Scholz | LCST 4014 A | Spring 2009
TXTmob is a free service that lets you quickly and easily
broadcast txt messages to friends, comrades, and total
strangers. The format is similar to an email b-board system.
You can sign up to send and receive up-to-the-minute
messages from groups of people organized around a range
of different topics. TXTmob was ﬁrst used by activists
protesting the 2004 Democratic and Republican National
Conventions. It was also deployed during the Ukranian
Orange Revolution and by demonstrators at the 2005
inauguration of George W. Bush.
Patrick Di Justo “Protests Powered by Cellphone.” The New York Times. 9 Sept 2004
2004: Responses to Madrid Train Bombings
O n 12 M a r c h 2 0 0 4 ,
Spaniards took to the streets
protesting against the
bombings in a government-
organized demonstration to
condemn ETA, who at the time
was being blamed for the
The demonstrations were invoked via spontaneous cell phone messages ending in
the phrase quot;pásaloquot; (pass it on).
The candidate of the governing conservative party, Mariano Rajoy, complained
on television about the demonstrations and demanded that the opposition parties
The Socialist party sent a message saying that quot;the Spanish people do not
deserve a government that lies to them.quot;
•3 day before election
•government spreads disinformation
•popular response coordinated via sms messages
Seattle 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle
Feb 15, 2003: Worldwide protests
against the war in Iraq
LA Students organize 15000 people for immigration protest through MySpace and SMS
Territory size shows the proportion of all people who demonstrated against a war in
Iraq, on the 14th, 15th and 16th of February 2003, who demonstrated there.
Feb 15, 2003
14 million Internet users (April 2007)
16% of the population
An archipelago Southeast Asia more than seven thousand islands east of Vietnam
History shows Asian, European, and American inﬂuences
Archipelago nation in the Southeastern Asia between the Philippine Sea and the
South China Sea, east of Vietnam
The United States ruled over the Philippines from 1898 to 1946.
Communications in the Philippines
41 million cellphone users nationwide
Philippines has been dubbed quot;Texting Capital of the World”
5.5 million use their phone for bank transactions
Filipinos sent an average of 1 billion SMS messages per day in 2007.
Radio: 381 AM and 628 FM stations
“Radio is the most accessible type of media due to
the remoteness of certain rural locations, and most
Philippine languages are broadcasted in this
Text messages begging for help
The SOS SMS system is a literal lifeline for thousands of Overseas
Filipino Workers (8 million total, 13% of GDP)
founded in context of Iraq war, worried about OFW in Saudi Arabia
The helpline receives about five messages asking for assistance
each day, about 60% of which come from Saudi Arabia (800,000
quot;If you're a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia, you can't go out by
yourself,quot; said Vic. quot;Most of the time you are confined in the house
of your employer. There are some cases of abuses.quot;
racial discrimination, murder, kidnapping, sex slavery.
network on the ground responds: all cases are logged, non-profit
organizations follow up hotline in the Philippines, activating a
network of nonprofits and government agencies to come to the
organization of protests and the ousting of a corrupt president
Trebor Scholz | LCST 4014 A | Spring 2009
most popular ringtone
led to pro-democracy protests
Reuters Africa takes an interesting approach. Its design resembles
the rest of the Reuters site, but the content is presented by country.
You can select countries from an image map of the continent, or
from a drop-down menu.
Who will be left to use IT in Africa?
Draught in Africa
What is the value added by a piece of equipment?
Africa has become the fastest growing mobile
market in the world with mobile penetration
in the region ranging from 100% to 30%
Pre-paid subscriptions account for nearly 95 percent of total
mobile subscriptions in the region
Wind turbine powers mobile telecom in Africa
Money Transfer via Mobile Phone
NAIROBI (Reuters) - Safaricom, Kenya's biggest cell phone ﬁrm, on Tuesday launched a money transfer
service that will use short message services, which it said was the ﬁrst of its kind in the world.
The product allows its 5.8 million subscribers to use their cell phones to send money in the east African
country where it is commonplace for one family member working in the city to support a whole family living
in rural areas.
In Africa each cell phone represents several users
Oneworld.net set up one project in Nairobi, for example that was a kind of
SMS job bank
that allowed workers to connect with employment quickly and successfully.
Radio is by far the most dominant mass medium in Africa, and the recent
proliferation of independent radio stations and cellular infrastructure in Ghana
is already affecting politics. Running up to the December 2000 election, Radio
phone-in shows pilloried the hand-picked successor of the outgoing president.
During the election itself, voters used cellphones and talk radio to report voting
fraud: “Whenever someone at a polling place reported fraud, the called the
radio station, which broadcast it; the police had to check it out, not having the
excuse that they did not receive a report.”
Increased connectivity in Africa through mobile phones
97% of all Tanzanians say they can access a mobile phone
ﬁshermen carry mobile phones while they are at sea allowing them call for assistance in case of any trouble.
They also use their mobiles to check market prices.
... one can easily ﬁnd signals in the remotest places like the slopes of Kilimanjaro and the smallest of villages.
Call centers have sprung up all over Tanzania that are connected via GSM rather than landlines.
African mobile penetration to reach 42% by 2011
mobile operators are mostly from the region
At the end of 2007 there were 280.7 million mobile phone
subscribers in Africa, representing a penetration rate of 30.4%
“FrontlineSMS is free software that turns a laptop and a mobile phone into a central communications hub. Once installed, the
program enables users to send and receive text messages with large groups of people through mobile phones. What you
communicate is up to you, making FrontlineSMS useful in many different ways.”
Country to Use SMS to Fight Fake Drugs
Where the level of risk demands it, pharmaceuticals will be mass-
serialised at the unit level to ensure end-user participation in the
anti-counterfeiting scheme. In other areas where submarket-
diversion is deemed to pose the most sustained risk, supply chain
consolidation methods will be employed to link manufacturers,
distributors and retailers along regulated drug supply routes.
Amnesty International: SMS to Stop Torture
02 March 2001
As part of its 2001 campaign on torture, Amnesty International USA launched its FAST network
“ As soon as Amnesty International hears about an imminent threat of torture, FAST instantly sends out an alarm to
its network of activists around the globe. Cell phones ring, pagers buzz and computers chime, instructing activists by
the thousands to sign electronic letters of protest. Within hours, the threat of torture is exposed. Once exposed, it is
nearly impossible to carry out.”
quot;Torture is an affront to human dignity that can never be justiﬁed and must be stopped in every corner of the
world,quot; said William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). quot;Those who try to justify
torture are as guilty as those who inﬂict the beatings, electric shocks, rapes, or mock executions.quot;
2004: Fahamu and a coalition of women’s
rights organizations launched the ﬁrst
continent-wide campaign using SMS text
messages in Africa.
The electronic petition campaign urged
African governments to ratify the
African Union’s Protocol on the
Rights of Women in Africa. Users
could sign via their Web site or can
via SMS from their mobile phones.
The petition was successful.
OhmyNews reported how women in South Africa ﬁght for their human rights with cell phones. “In a culture where
people travel long distances to ﬁnd work, the mobile has become the most useful and ubiquitous piece of technology
since the bicycle. Just as bicycles are used in rural Africa to transport bananas or paying passengers, the mobile is
changing lives in ways unimagined in the developed world. It links distant families and allows the poor to
produces videos that tell women's stories
Senegal: mobiles for public health
One of the innovators in this ﬁeld pushing the use of mobiles in data collection, public health, childrens' health, and
open source mobile innovation is Erica Kochi, the co-director of the Innovation Team at UNICEF.
Rapid SMS and Rapid Android are two mobile applications that are already changing the way aid organizations are
thinking about using mobiles in delivery, logistics, and distribution of food and health aid.
mHealth Alliance to support increasing the scale of the many small m-health projects by working with mobile
operators and public health ministries.
Mobile Senegal - a series of mobile application boot camps for students
FeedeliX Wireless Inc. is a California based company specializing in
providing mobile text and instant messaging solutions for users of
Latin as well as major Non-Latin scripts such as Hindi and Ethiopic
based on a proprietary technology.
Brazil Russia India China
population 100 million
most people get access through Internet cafes
many people access the net ﬁrst on a cell phone, not a PC
most investment goes into telecom development
even small villages have cell phone signal
Mobile fundraising shortcodes are available to all nonproﬁts, not just during the disasters.
Donations solicited via mobile minus fees are collected and forwarded to the nonproﬁt within 90 days.
In 2008, the ﬁrst full year of mobile fundraising in the United States, mobile giving crossed only
half a million dollars
The Salvation Army in several cities, solicited mobile donations in its kettle ringing campaigns
during the holidays.
A new blog, Mobile Giving Insider is keeping track of developments in this space
Though not strictly mobile giving, Twitter and other social networks such as Facebook are yet
another channel for nonproﬁts to build networks reachable via mobile to turn people into
supporters and donors of an organization.
Cell phones, Rural Social Movements and the Bolivian Gas War
In Bolivia, the revolution of 1952 was lead by the miners unions. A network of rural community radio
stations coordinated it.
In 2003 cell phones facilitated the biggest indigenous siege of La Paz in almost 300 years. Protests were
coordinated via cell phone.
The government could not ﬁgure out how to shut off the cell phones of known organizers, or cell phone
towers that served indigenous communities.
Microentrepreneurs in Kigali,
Rwanda: ChangestoSocial and
calling in orders for small business
(wedding cakes from clients all over country)
80% of world population live within range of a
mobile network (p3)
James, profession: baker
mobile users in South Africa and Tanzania in this way,
observing that mobiles are being used more frequently
Microentrepreneurs in Kigali,
to manage strong ties, particularly family, than for
Rwanda: ChangestoSocial and
maintaining or adding weak ties.
By isolating these factors, the study will be able to
assess impacts of mobile ownership on microentre-
ﬁxed lines (thousands of lines)
preneursʼ communication networks, with an eye to-
1998: 10.8 2005: 23 ward differentiating between the change and
mobile lines 1998: 5 2005: 290 (p5)
Recent work on rural users in Africa and India
showed an even more pronounced skew toward Migration to Personal Uses
personal and emergency calls versus calls for busi- Cellphones are increasingly used for personal
ness purposes (Souter et al. 2005). communication, and less and less so for business.
some ways and not in others and, in turn, alter both (p 10)
their environment and the conventions of use of
technologies themselves (Orlikowski 2000; Poole)
(p5) “All across the developing world, people
like James the baker are ﬁnally able to own a tele-
phone line of their own. This is not to say that
“For those users with easy access to landlines, the
mobiles do not provide complementary beneﬁts
most important beneﬁts of the mobile may be a
to those who own landlines. Landline and nonland-
mixture of mobility, constant availability, and display/
line owners alike share in the ease of constant
status. Those whose ﬁrst and only phone is the mo-
reachability, safety, and convenience that mobiles
bile may experience all these same beneﬁts, but
provide. However, the more sudden changes to
they will also experience a dramatic increase in the
the network—the introduction of new weak
ease and affordability of basic mediated communi-
ties (Granovetter 1973) and the expansion of a
cation. Even if the bulk of calls ends up being with
network—are being experienced by those who are
friends and family, it is difﬁcult to underestimate the
purchasing phones for the ªrst time in their lives.
importance to an entrepreneur of simply having a
Those phones are overwhelmingly mobile handsets,
reliable and affordable telephone connection, which
not landlines.” (p12)
is what the mobile ﬁnally brings.” (p14)