Twitter shutting down sms services to Canada reminded me of a post I had lying in the depths of my draughts. So here goes.
When Twitter announced the cessation of the sms service back in August most of my network was annoyed but not devastated. I felt pretty much the same. Twitter themselves made a number of suggestions for solving the problem amongst which was advising users to use one of the following methods.
- m.twitter.com works on browser-enabled phones
- m.slandr.net works on browser-enabled phones
- TwitterMail works on email-enabled phones
- Cellity works on java-enabled phones
- TwitterBerry works on BlackBerry brand phones
- Twitterific works on iPhones
No biggie i thought, I will just use the 3g network and things will continue as per. A bit of a bummer for me because I travel a lot and getting access to the 3g networks in other places is not always easy, but wtf.
I recently finished giving a very interesting course. The people on my course use twitter (or used twitter) as an organisational and safety too.l When
they were in trouble as democracy or community activists they could
tweet and come in contact with a local and international audience who
could publicise the issue. However
as most people in the region do not have modern mobiles and no access to
data plans, the un-texting of twitter has had a really bad effect on them.
They have started to use Jaiku, but it does not have the same number of users and therefore is a much less useful tool.
Activists around the globe are using twitter as an increasingly important aspect of the struggle for democratic freedoms. Activists in China, Africa, the Middle-East and many other parts of the globe have both seen and shown the power of networked information services like Twitter.
An Example: Earlier in the year there were a number of strikes in Egypt. Activists organised using a variety of social media tools with Twitter being central. The use of web tools has caused the arrest of some of those activists, but it also helped release the American student James Karl Buck who was arrested while photographing the 6 April demonstration. His Twittered message ‘ARRESTED‘
through his cell phone alerted the world about his arrest.
This is a new front in the battle for democracy and freedom of expression. It is a great loss to the activists when a potent channel for the democratic dissemination and reception of information disappears.
It was only in meeting with people who are doing really important things with Twitter that I once again was reminded that what is trivial for us here can be lifesavingly important somewhere else in a different context. That what is seen as a time-suck and toy by us in the relative safety of our relative democracies can be a powerful tool for change in other places.
There are a lot of foundations out there giving money to good developmental projects. I would love to see a project that built an sms-bridge to social media networks for the developing world. Not exclusively for Twitter, but more like a Ping.fm service that delivered to mobiles as well as posted from them. I think it would be money well spent and give a democratic return on investment that would far outweigh most of the projects supported at the moment.
So, get your grant application pens out and start formulating! I would love to be involved :-)