Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Technology and Violence in Kenya

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society just released a report on the role that technology played in the violence in Kenya earlier this year. We reported in January how YouTube was used to document the post-election riots in Kenya, when the nation's public broadcaster used their YouTube channel to share the startling images of violence with the rest of the world. The Berkman study looked at how SMS and other grassroots technologies were used for good and for bad - and examined how the catalyzing nature of many-to-many communication has its benefits and its pitfalls.

In particular, the case study - authored by Joshua Goldstein and Juliana Rotich - examines how some Kenyans used mobile technology to motivate thousands of people to take to the streets in violence. Fast communication meant for quicker escalation to the violence. On the flip side, the authors note, activists and bloggers also used such tools as Google Earth and maps to document the violence and showcase the problems to the rest of the world (in the same way NTV used YouTube).

The paper is worth a read - you can find it here.

The paper may cause some to lament how technology has made mob violence a more orchestrated, more effective social ill. But it also highlights the needs of governments to be on top of technology as well. In the Kenyan case, the government asked Safaricom, the nations largest mobile provider, to consider shutting down the service. Michael Joseph, CEO of the company, had a better answer - he sent out a message to every single customer on his network, urging peace and calm.


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