Apps for Activism
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan alluded Twitter as ‘the worst menace to society.’ He made this comment (in June, 2013) after environmentalists’ protests (which were later joined by all people) regarding the development of a park. The government eventually brought down the protests by stopping the sporadic access to networks; however, the protesters gained an edge over the authorities. The use of Facebook in the 2008 Egypt strikes showed how digital activism campaigns – using commercial platforms — made a huge impact on general population. But, the problem with authoritarian governments is that using those commercial platforms can end up in danger (founders of the Facebook group, in Egypt, were later arrested). So, the launching of various interesting apps has taken the activism without much risks of reprisal.
Few days back, in Thailand, the protestors took Smart Phone apps to a whole new level. They have downloaded applications that allow mobiles to help protesters perform the high-pitched, raucous noise-making (which was the staple of demonstrations). Known as “Nok Weed”, the app was downloaded by more than 80,000 people and is now seen as the symbolic representation of the campaign against Prime Minister Shinawatra. The app allows the user to choose the color of whistle and the volume limit. The creator of the App said, “it doesn’t do much and isn’t useful”, but he was proved wrong, when it claimed the top spot on Google Play Store’s trending list. The app’s popularity has now attracted thousands of Smart Phones users of Bangkok (who mostly belong to the middle classes) to the rallies, which started before six weeks. Narit, the independent developer and creator of this app is now addressing the criticisms found in the application.
Another recent attraction in Thailand is the iPhone game called “Thai Fight” (80,000 downloads). This application pits Prime Minister Shinawatra against 28 opponents, including local celebrities or other politicians, in a bloodless combat. The creator of this app Supasheep Srijumnong stated that, “Everyone is so stressed out about politics. I wanted to balance the stress with humor.” It is said that in this game politicians don’t hit each other like a bout. They rather throw things (a range of weapons is available), like our heated parliamentary discussions.
Apps like StoryMaker have turned Smart Phones into a discrete kit for journalism. It also provides tips on publishing professional-grade news as securely and safely as possible. ‘InformaCam’ is an app, which allows activists to upload newly shot footage, automatically to a secure server, and deletes the evidence from phone, should they be arrested. Circumvention application ‘Tor’ encrypts once Internet’s traffic and masks the location of their Internet activities, although applications like these helps users to view contents like porn and pirated films.
Apps like ‘PanicButton’ mostly ensure the safety of woman in a physically threatening situation. When in danger, if activated, the app triggers an emergency SMS to her network’s nearest member and constantly sends location updates. In America, Gun Control activists have developed an app to say where people’s guns aren’t welcome. Available in iPhone, iPads and Android devices, the app’s aim is to identify 20 nearest school, church or commercial places, telling them whether each one of those places is gun-friendly or free. An app named ‘Buycott’ allows you to boycott companies or corporate that is involved in actions you don’t like. By withholding your money, you can send strong messages to the company (for e.g.,) which is involved in producing genetically modified food products. The armchair activism problem can be solved by more simple apps like these.
More collaborative efforts are sought after for research, testing and training much efficient apps. The task is not to simply create an innovative or relevant tool for activism, but it should also make a user understand the inherent security risk possible. To equip activists with the perfect mobile tools, there is a need for bridges– mainly between the designing the tools and the people they are designing them for.
Activists are mostly isolated and have to face the dangers of self-identification, but these technologies take them to next level and help them to reach through non-political friend networks. Can an App bring out the activism in a human being? May be not, but the activists using an app, designed for him can attract many inert people to join him. It is in the hands of everybody to go beyond the simple “like” and “share” buttons to engage with issues that might endanger his community or a fellow human being.