Real social ties and social movements

Tina Rosenberg has a great piece —  Friends in Revolution — in which she discusses her skepticism about the power of internet-based social networks to be agents for  political change  in the absence of real social ties. She highlights that a new tool, Friendfactor, combined social media with real friendships in the campaign for gay marriage. She highlights that the notion of a Twitter Revolution in Iran and the role of Facebook in Egypt may have been overplayed (though she doesn’t provide concrete evidence of this…)

All of this sounds right to me. I share her skepticism that people are going to risk their lives in protest simply because others in an online community have said they would do the same. One needs to feel some type of fundamental personal attachment to at least a few other people who are personally known and trusted before making such sacrifices. Of course, real friendships and connections may be initiated and developed online, but the types of links that inspire personal sacrifice are rarely made instantaneously. Before we take for granted the “power” of facebook and other forms of social media, we should consider the extent to which the most prominent examples — Tahir square, etc — were rooted in networks of more private and analog connections between people.

Crowdsourced/web-based education monitoring in Kenya

According to the PovertyMattersBlog , the same crowdsourcing technology I posted about earlier — which allowed people in Kenya to track ethnic violence in 2008 — will now be used to monitor education and health service delivery in that country, and perhaps elsewhere in Africa. Or at least that’s the plan. According to the posting, one of Ushahidi’s partners is Twaweza — the same organization that has contracted my colleagues Dan Posner, Lily Tsai, and myself to study the Uwezo education initiative in Kenya (we are busy preparing for field research as I write…)

Google expanding in Africa

I just received the following posting from an African studies list serve — that Google is hiring in Africa. I re-post it here because some readers might be interested in applying for the jobs… but of broader significance, the message highlights that internet connectivity is rapidly expanding in Africa, and Google obviously feels that they need people “on the ground” to penetrate the market.

Google continues to work on making the Internet be part of everyday
life in  Africa and to grow various teams in the region. We believe
that people are our most important asset so we are looking to hire the
most qualified professionals. When considering candidates, we value
local knowledge in addition to international experience and
exceptional academic achievement.

Google is hiring for these following locations in: East Africa
(Kenya/Uganda), Francophone Africa (Senegal), Nigeria, South Africa
and West/Central Africa (Ghana). There are roles open in various
areas: Business Operations and Development, Engineering Operations and
Management, Legal & Public Policy, Marketing and Communications and

Please do not hesitate to share this email and my contact information
with your network locally and globally.

If anyone is interested in joining Google, please email a
chronological resume to:

Thank you,

Nabil Khatib
Mountain View, CA

Crowdsourcing violence reports in Kenya

Lately, I have been really fascinated by the various uses of handheld technology in Africa, especially in Kenya — which is well-known for cellphone-based banking. But I just came across this project — maybe I’m the last one to hear about it — called Ushahidi (which means “witness” in Swahili), and they created a “crowdmap” of the ethnic violence that followed the 2007 Kenyan elections. Basically, Kenyans from across the country texted reports of violence from their cellphones or via email, and they created a pretty complete picture of where and on what scale the violence took place (Guardian).

Obviously, this is incredibly cool, and very powerful. One of Amartya Sen’s most widely cited observations concerns the ability of democracies to prevent famines from occurring because information and pressure flow freely from citizens to politicians. This type of tool really takes citizen information flow to the next level.

I do wonder, however, to what extent such a tool could be manipulated in the future. Is there any way of verifying the accuracy of individual reports?