Tuesday, December 15, 2009

U.S. government consultants have included iRevolution blogger

Among those who have advised the U.S. government on Cuba programs is Patrick Meier, who has been studying "whether local access to new media and digital technologies changes the balance of power between repressive regimes and civil resistance movements."
Meier studies at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and is a doctoral research fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. His blog is called iRevolution.

An introduction to a seminar where Meier was speaking said:
A key question in the relatively new field of digital activism is whether new technologies will help or hinder efforts to remove authoritarian governments. What we tend to see are patterns of repression by regimes, followed by circumvention as activists find ways to work around new restrictions. The ability to learn and adapt would seem to be crucial in determining whether activists or governments gain the upper hand.
When studying this area more closely, a number of research gaps emerge.
* Firstly, many studies use ‘information revolution' and ‘internet' interchangeably; this fails to recognize the importance of other technologies such as mobile phones.
* Secondly, discourses from complexity science that model how networks operate have not yet been brought into this literature.
* Thirdly, since the majority of studies to date are qualitative in nature, there is a real lack of quantitative analysis. The result is that we are left with a collection of anecdotes, some demonstrating that technology has promoted activism, and others detailing how repressive regimes are using technology successfully for their own ends. This anecdotal approach produces little clarity about the relationship between technology and political activism.
Meier's bio says he was "the civil society and new media advisor for the Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program."
He is on the boards of Ushahidi, DigiActive and Digital Democracy.
The Ushahidi initiative in Africa is interesting. It is aimed at collecting, mapping and creating timelines of information that anyone can submit using mobile phones, e-mail or the Internet.
Perhaps U.S. officials are looking at promoting that kind of thing in a moment of civil unrest or a major crackdown in Cuba.

Twitter vs. Tyrants: An iRevolution post summarizing congressional briefing on role of New Media technology in democratization

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