Australian radio show features citizen journalism in Uganda

After I published an article for the Committee to Protect Journalists on citizen journalism during the Kampala riots, Shevonne Hunt of Australian radio show The Fourth Estate contacted me to talk about the role Twitter and blogs played in the crisis.

Solomon King (the force behind Ugandan blog aggregator Blogspirit and one of the most prolific tweeters during the riots) and I are featured in the show's most recent podcast. You can access it at The Fourth Estate (scroll down to the bottom, click "Show Episodes," and choose the episode from September 25).

As Solomon says, hope I did all of you justice!

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The Internet vs. the printing press: am I wrong?

Blogren, Berkterns and others, I need your advice.

I'm taking a class on the social impact of mass media. Tonight we discussed the printing press, and how print lends — now less than before, but I think it still applies — a legitimacy to thought that ideas that haven't been committed to paper lack.

Someone suggested that all new forms of media give increased levels of authority to the ideas they transmit — not just print, but radio and television as well.

I argued that this rule doesn't hold for the Internet, and I was promptly shot down by a surprisingly large number of people in the class. Their points were:

  • The Internet isn't a grand democratic commons. It's highly elite.

  • People do believe everything they read on the Internet. One example was a newspaper in Bangladesh reprinting a full article from The Onion, not understanding that it was a joke.

I concede the first point. The Internet is definitely not a perfectly democratic commons, though I maintain that, compared to the highly expensive, highly rare (not to mention extremely heavy) printing press, it is far more accessible to the average citizen, whether we're speaking domestically or globally. Though it requires access to a computer, Internet access can often be had cheaply or for free through government programs or at public libraries or Internet cafés.

More importantly, the cost of publication and distribution online is so comparatively small — and the amount of information published and distributed so comparatively great — that I believe it's disingenuous to say that the Internet and the printing press endow ideas with the same authority. Being exceedingly careful to avoid value judgements, I submit that the blog is a very different beast than the Bible.

As for the second point, I would argue that the confusion over what is and is not a legitimate source online stems more from cultural — and here I include generational — differences than from a sense that all things online are true. Expecting accurate cross-cultural interpretations of satire is demanding quite a lot from journalists whose native language is likely not English, as is expecting accurate assessments of spam from someone who still thinks it comes in a can.

So. Am I totally wrong? And if so, why? I was born the same year Apple introduced the Macintosh and got my first e-mail account in sixth grade, so my knowledge of the Internet is primarily first-hand, rather than scholarly. Any articles to which you can refer me would be greatly appreciated, but I'm also looking for personal opinions. When did you first access the Internet? How? Where? Why? What did you think?

The comments are open, folks. Looking forward to your thoughts.

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GV Uganda: Blogs, Twitter Keep World Informed as Kampala Riots Continue

Things seem to have settled down somewhat in Kampala, where riots on Thursday and Friday caused at least nine and possibly as many as 14 deaths.

I've been glued to my laptop for the past few days, feverishly refreshing TweetDeck and Google Reader and paging through Blogspirit, hoping for news of friends in the city. I'm not the only one: accurate information has been hard to come by, and people both in and out of Uganda have relied on blogs and Twitter for much of their news about the riots. This is the subject of my most recent piece on Global Voices Online:

As riots shook Kampala, the capital of Uganda, for the second day, bloggers and other netizens rallied to keep the world informed.

Within 24 hours of the first riots, concerned Kampalans launched Uganda Witness, a crisis reporting site where Ugandans can share news of deaths, looting, presence of government forces and other related information. As of Friday afternoon (9pm GMT) the site had received multiple reports of rioting in downtown Kampala and several of the city's suburbs.

Read the full post »

Featured in the post are Uganda Witness, the 27th Comrade writing for The Kampalan, @dgel, Uganda Talks, Fresh Apples, @mugamuya, @uginsomniac and Ugandan Insomniac, The Malan Family, @CamaraAfrica, @solomonking, and Jon Gos of Appfrica.

Today Jon posted his thoughts on asynchronous info, disjointed data and crisis reporting during the riots. Well worth a read.

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Calestous Juma on how Seacom will change everything

In addition to censorship in China and Twitter in Tehran, I spent a decent part of this summer writing about Internet infrastructure in Africa. The summer had plenty of stories: damage to the SAT-3 cable in western Africa caused major Internet blackouts in Nigeria, Niger, Togo and Benin, a situation that hopefully won't happen again now that Nigeria's new GLO-1 cable has arrived.

But the biggest story of all was Seacom: a new cable connecting eastern Africa to the global undersea cable system. For years eastern Africa has been the only part of the continent without access to this system. Seacom's arrival will bring faster, cheaper broadband Internet to a number of countries that have long relied on expensive satellite connections.

While I haven't personally experienced the joys of Seacom yet (though here's hoping I'll be back in Uganda at some point before the end of the year), friends tell me it's mindblowing. The 27th Comrade writes:

Something big—quite big—and fast—very, very fast—is happening here.

As excited as the blogren and I are about Seacom, Harvard professor Calestous Juma is even more thrilled. Professor Juma is one of the world's leading experts on how science and technology can contribute to sustainable development, and here's what he has to say about Seacom:

The launching of Seacom’s fiber optic cable in July was the single most important infrastructure investment in eastern Africa since the construction of the Uganda Railway, then dubbed “The Lunatic Express."

The single most important infrastructure investment since the construction of the Uganda Railway. For those of you who aren't familiar with The Lunatic Express, its construction began in the 19th century.

Professor Juma will be at Harvard's Berkman Center on Tuesday afternoon to discuss broadband and Internet policy in East Africa. I've been debating how many of my limbs I would be willing to give to be able to see his talk in person, but unfortunately you can't buy time or a train ticket with bodily extremities these days. I'll settle for watching the webcast.

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GV Uganda: Nine Dead in Kampala Riots

Anyone who visits Jackfruity has probably heard of the Kampala riots by now. I put together a post for Global Voices Online last night on the situation in the city, and I'll be writing more as the situation continues.

I'm following the bloggers on Blogspirit as well as @solomonking, @UgandaTalks, @uginsomniac, @appfrica, @AnneMugisha and others on Twitter.

For now, here's the post on Global Voices:

Riots in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, have led to the deaths of at least nine people (BBC) as members of the Baganda ethnic group clashed with police and military forces on Wednesday and Thursday.

The riots are an escalation of an ongoing feud between the central Ugandan government and the King (or “Kabaka”) of the Baganda tribe, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II. The Baganda people belong to the Kingdom of Buganda, and they are the largest Ugandan ethnic group.

Last week, Mutebi announced that he was planning an official visit to Kayunga, a district about 45km (28 miles) northeast of Kampala. The district is part of the Kingdom of Buganda, but it is also home to many members of the Banyala ethnic group, many of whom would prefer to establish their own independent kingdom.

Banyala leaders announced they would protest the visit and warned Mutebi not to come. The central government responded by warning Mutebi to stay out of the district and arresting several Baganda people in the area who were erecting exhibition stalls and tents in preparation for his arrival.

Read the full post »

In this post are Flourescent, Fresh Apples, GayUganda, @solomonking, @appfrica, Araalingua and Ugandan Insomniac.

For those of you who are in Kampala and are Tweeting, blogging, and posting Facebook updates: thank you so much for keeping the rest of us informed. My thoughts are with you.

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GV Nigeria: New Submarine Internet Cable Lands in Lagos

My next piece is up at Global Voices Online:

The arrival of the GLO-1 submarine cable in Lagos this weekend has West African bloggers excited. GLO-1 connects Nigeria and 13 other West African countries to the global telecommunications system via Europe, bringing new bandwidth to the region.

In late July, damage to the SAT-3 cable — which until last weekend was Nigeria's only link to the global communications system — crippled bank services and Internet access throughout the country. Approximately 70 percent of the country's bandwidth was affected.

According to the Chief Operating Officer of Globacom Limited, which financed the GLO-1 project, the new system will be able to meet all of Nigeria's broadband needs for the next 15 to 20 years. Bloggers are looking forward to faster speeds and cheaper and more reliable access.

Read the full post »

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new social media filtering maps from the opennet initiative

The summer of 2009 was a hectic one for online social media: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a bevy of other sites fell under the censors' axe in China and Iran as political events — namely the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Iranian presidential election — shook both countries.

If you've been having a hard time keeping track of whether Twitter is accessible in Tehran or if Fallujah is blocked Facebook, you're not alone. Luckily, I just completed a project for the OpenNet Initiative to help you out.

Based on testing conducted in 2008-2009, ONI has compiled data on the most frequently blocked social media sites around the world. We are proud to present five new social media filtering maps that serve as easy visual guides to the countries where Facebook, Flickr, Orkut, Twitter and YouTube are blocked.

Visit them now, and lay your social media filtering questions to rest.

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