Author Archives: sarahswig

Reflecting on ICT4D

To start, ICT4D has the potential to have great outcomes. It can help reduce poverty, empower women and other marginalized groups, create more transparency in business and governance, improve health care systems, create a more sustainable future relating to the environment, and improve the risk in disasters and emergencies. There is no doubt that technology can help in these areas when applied correctly. Therefore, I think the first greatest lesson is to better monitor and evaluate existing ICT4D programs. There are several different frameworks that exist and ideas that different organizations use when creating their plans or programs, and tons of different ICT4D projects and initiatives. The problem is that there has been little monitoring and evaluation after those programs have been implemented. Without looking at the true successes and failures of these existing projects, we can’t know what’s the best way to use technology in a sustainable way in the developing world.

I was particularly intrigued by “Oscar Night Syndrome” – the idea that in the development field, there is always a need to look good and highlight the successful parts of the given project. No organization wants to publish bad results, so there is much less emphasis on the negative aspects of a given project. Therefore, it’s extremely important to analyze ICT4D failures. As discussed in class, the website FAILFARE reports on the failures of ICT4D projects, and looks at why certain things don’t work in development. The hope is to then have a better understanding and more information to create better and more sustainable development projects in the future. I think it’s crucial for sites or organizations like FAILFARE to expand and continue to publish information on ICT4D failures.

I also think the idea of “local knowledge” is essential in ICT4D. There is no “one-size fits all” approach. As we’ve seen in class, every city, region, country, and continent has a different set  of rules and frameworks that must be abided by. Some areas may have low literacy rates rates, others may have a government unwilling to adapt to new technologies, and others may have next to no electricity. These are all very different problems that inhibit the use of ICTs. Therefore, while many projects are able to abide by a theoretical framework, no two projects can be exactly the same. This is where local knowledge comes in. All of the theoretical frameworks and successful projects we have looked at have touched upon the importance of local knowledge in their projects – local knowledge of the government and laws, of the viability of various technologies, an understanding of culture etc. Without expanding upon knowledge, development projects will not be able to use their full potential in achieving their best results. I think the Human Centered Design framework we learned about in class most closely adheres to this idea, and is the most useful framework moving forward with development projects. It allows for local knowledge, a true understanding of the population and what technologies they need, want, and can use, and allows for a unique project according to those ideas.

Naturally, taking this course has really opened my eyes to the importance of technology, both in the developed and the developing world. The topics we discussed at the end of the course – like the use of social media – were of particular interest to me. I’ve always been a pretty avid Twitter user / Instagram-er etc. but it was especially interesting to see what I saw as “social” or “fun” technologies being used for more important purposes. As we read and discussed, Twitter was vital to the Arab Spring, and helped spread ideas about democracy and human rights across the globe. Monitoring social media after the Boston Massacre and various school shootings  was also of great interest to me – and I learned a lot about the benefits and pitfalls of social media. Similarly, Ralph Russo’s guest lecture on cyber-security was of particular interest to me, and is obviously a very important topic to study given the current threat of cyber-security. As a political science major (in addition to international development), I think it’s really important to understand the importance of technology and social media in the world, and the role of governance in these phenomenons. Technological innovation is clearly of growing prominence and is changing our daily and social lives, as well as our political lives, so I’m grateful to have had the exposure to the topics discussed in our class for that reason. I am now much more comfortable with Twitter and WordPress, and understand more so the full potential of Twitter, other social media sites, and more generally to blogs. I think moving forward this comfort and knowledge of technology will greatly benefit my skill-set and make me more marketable to future employers.


How One Tweet Can Cause the Stock Market to Crash

One false tweet from the Associated Press’s Twitter account caused the stock market to crash within minutes. The tweet reported that there had been explosions at the White House that had injured President Obama. The message read “Breaking: Two explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured”. Immediately, the stock market dropped, yet bounced back right after it became clear that the Associated Press’s Twitter account had been hacked.

The speed of the reaction highlights how fast and suceptible our financial markets are to technological glitches, and how significant Twitter’s impact can be. In the investing world, high-speed computer trades control the entire market, which explains why chaos ensued after the Tweet was posted. The tweet was posted at 1p.m., and between 1:08 and 1:10pm the Dow Jones Industrial average fell more than 100 points. Joseph Saluzzi of the equity-trading firm Themis Trading wrote “It wasn’t just the stock market. It was the bond market and the commodity market and everything. The event was done before humans could even process it”. He continues and says that tracking social media has “become the norm in trading”. Twitter and the Web are important for analyzing news feeds, yet this clearly backfires when a false or hacked tweet is posted.

This case isn’t the only example of a fake tweet causing a huge public reaction. In February, Burger King and Jeep’s Twitter accounts were hacked and spread rumors that said that each company had been sold to their rival. In the past year, National Public Radio, CBS 60 Minutes, and Reuters News and several other major Twitter accounts were hacked. However, the most recent AP hack had the most disastrous results: the tweet wiped out $136.5 billion of the S&P 500 index value.

This AP tweet, combined with all of the misinformation surrounding the Boston bombing shows how 140 characters can have instant and disastrous results for our public and our stock market. These hacks have been occurring all too often, and highlight that Twitter is often not a reliable or quality news source. We should all start to be more aware of the environment of social media: fake tweets happen, and we should all double check information before re-tweeting or reposting. We have to ask ourselves what’s more important: getting fast information or correct information.


The Boston Myth-athon

In the wake of the Boston tragedy, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other major social media sites were putting out information faster than many accredited news sources. People were sad, angry, confused, and worried. Both individuals and organizations were sending out information from Boston and all over the world to try to give people accurate information and connect people with friends and families. While these social media sites are often useful in providing valuable information in the midst of chaos and poor cell service, much of the information is often unreliable. The pressure to provide information immediately allows for sloppy journalism and false information on social media sites.

One of the first myths I saw was on Instagram. A screenshot of the post is below, and it shows a little girl running the marathon. The post claimed that she was running in honor of Sandy Hook elementary school, and died as a result of the explosions.

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The claim is 100% false. After seeing a few of these posts, both on Instagram and Facebook, I checked more credible news sources, and saw nothing indicating any young girl had died. Since then, CNN tweeted and posted an article on their homepage about the various myths that were spread.

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The article disproves the 5 major myths that were spread, and also has a photo from the Twitter account @Hope4Boston (photo below). Image

CNN writes “Sometimes accidentally and sometimes maliciously, false information gets loose. And in the rapid-fire digital echo chamber, it doesn’t take long to spread”. CNN goes on to dispel the 5 major false rumors that were spread. The myths are listed below.

  1. Man planned to propose, girlfriend killed
  2. Young girl died at finish line (same story as photo above)
  3. Race organizers will donate for retweets
  4. Authorities shut down cell phone service
  5. Conspiracy theories

I was glad to see CNN posted this article, since the above 5 stories had been circulating on social media and had been mentioned in my own friend group. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Twitter and other social media sites publishing false information.

Most significantly, the New York Post originally published that 12 people died in the explosions, which is also simply not true. Vanity Fair posted a satirical article outlining the few things that the New York Post actually got right — that the marathon was in Boston, and that they spelled Boston right. The inaccurate and misleading article was online for hours, and is now receiving much criticism for its false reporting. A screenshot of my close friend’s Tweet is below.

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Of course, there were benefits to the use of social media yesterday. Cell service was spotty – so many relied on Wifi and websites to get information. There were several lists and documents to help people find their families and in helping people communicate. For example, various individuals tweeted about where people could gain access to Wifi. However, the examples and photos above demonstrate the many pitfalls and shortcomings of social media during and after the Boston Marathon, and highlight a major flaw in journalism and the deterioration of availability of accurate and reliable information.


Social Media and Violence

It is almost universally agreed upon that individuals and groups have a right to their freedom of expression and freedom of the press. These freedoms are essential to a strong civil society and are critical in any democracy. Social media is very obviously intertwined with these freedoms, as it provides an outlet for individuals to connect, communicate, and express their voices and opinions.

There are many positive benefits to social media. Here at Tulane, we get emails of every crime reported in the nearby area. In the greater New Orleans area, we have gotten text messages with “water boil advisories” when the water is unsafe to drink. These benefits have been seen on a global scale as well. The Zapatista group in Mexico was able to spread their message through the use of the Internet, and gained a lot of international attention, thereby holding the Mexican government accountable to their demands. Social media was critical in the organization and mobilization of individuals in the Arab Spring, and helped shape democratic ideas globally.

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However, social media is not always used for the greater good, as exemplified recently in Myanmar. Until recently, Myanmar was under military rule, where there was tight censorship and limited access to telecommunication technologies. This ensured that the vast majority of citizens in Myanmar remained “in the dark” about what was truly happening in their country. The International cites a publication of the UN Human Development Index with figures regarding ICTs in Myanmar: in 2010, one of every 100 citizens owned a computer, less than 300 owned mobile phones, and only 13% had electricity. It currently ranks as the second to last country in the world for Internet connectivity.

However, with the new leadership of President Thein Sein, this is all beginning to change. The President hopes to implement reforms to allow for more freedom of expression. The government plans to provide mobile access to the majority of the population by 2015. Moreover, last month, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt visited Myanmar to launch the new page www.google.com.mm. However, since that original visit, Schmidt has had pessimistic predictions for the future of the Internet in Myanmar.

He recently posted on his Google+ page the following quote.

As the police state has withdrawn, always present religious tensions have erupted with burning of homes and some murders. With popular support, the government then responded with the Army to restore order. In the same way, we are entering a dangerous period for the Internet in Myanmar. What happens when a religious group falsely claims damages from others.. will the Army be sent in too? The country cannot even agree on a press freedoms law for the newspapers, and freedom of political speech is a one year old concept.

The group that has largely been oppressed and had severe violence inflicted on them recently are the Rohingya people, an Indo-Aryan ethnic group. Many in the country have used social media to organize against this group. The International, writes that “the newfound access to social media has been blamed for the swift increase in violence”. The Myanmar case demonstrates an example of where social media has caused extraordinary violence and oppression.

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Of course, there is a flip side to this — the group Anonymous has used Twitter to expose what they call a genocide of the Rohingya people. The hashtag #RohingyaNOW was hit a peak of 24,000 tweets per hour. The Daily Beast posted an article on this, for further reading.


Can One Laptop Per Child Save the World’s Poor?

This week, we are studying the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program. This program’s mission is to “empower the world’s poorest children through education”. OLPC has developed their own laptop computer, called the XO, along with its own software interface called Sugar, and aims to provide each child in the world with this low-cost and low-power computer. Click here to see a video of the non-profit’s mission.

1) Kids keep the laptops (meaning they must be free to take them home with them)

2) Focus on early education (focus on kids 6-12 years old)

3) No one gets left out (focus on large numbers at once, so they deliver to an entire school at once)

4) Connection to the internet

5) Free to grow and adapt (so the laptop can adapt with the child)

The program’s founder and chairman is Nicholas Negroponte, and argues the computers are a “children’s machine that would empower youth to learn without, or inspite of, their schools and teachers”. He believes that after solely giving a child a laptop, he or she will be able to learn how to use it on their own. This implementation strategy is of much alarm to Mark Warschauer, a professor at UC Irvine, and Morgan Ames, a PhD student at Stanford. Together, they wrote a paper titled “Can One Laptop per Child Save the World’s Poor?”.

They argue that no, it can not. Their first problem with OLPC is its implementation strategy. They believe that Negroponte’s believe that “great benefits will be achieved by simply giving children laptops and getting out of their way reflects naive and technologically determinist views… ICT is more of a sociotechnical network than a tool”. The main problem is that the implementation strategy is a “one-shot” try, and ignores all other factors. They argue that there is a lack of a holistic approach, and that other factors should be considered.

For example, Warschauer and Ames argue that many rural schools don’t have electricity access, let alone internet access and the ability to charge ones computer. Therefore, just because a child has a laptop, doesn’t mean they will be able to use it at school, or for school purposes. Another problem is that the laptops are not affordable. They wrote that Negroponte’s initial plan was to sell the laptop for $100 or less, but that now, it is near $188 plus implementation costs. The authors argue that this money, if allocated differently, could have stronger impacts. They believe that money would be better off “building schools, training teachers, developing curricula, providing books, and subsidizing attendance. They cite many other issues with OLPC, such as software issues, a lack of infrastructural and technical support, a lack of safety bringing computers home, and lastly argue that many students use the computers for entertainment rather than education.

Fortunately, it seems as though OLPC has taken a different approach. The authors write that luckily, Walter Bender (who was the former president of the software and content) returned to the organization, and brought with him a new perspective. He said, in contrast to Negroponte, “The Key to success is to really take a holistic approach to the servers, the infrastructure, the logistics, the software, the preparation and training, the pedagogy, and the community that is using all this stuff”. This is a huge change from Negroponte’s original one-shot implementation strategy, and seems to promise more success. However, Warschauer and Ames still argue that “regrettably, there is no magic laptop that can solve the educational problems of the world’s poor”, but that if they commit to this new implementation strategy, then they will be “better prepared to contribute to this worthwhile long-term endeavor”.


An Overview of the World Economic Forum’s “Global Information and Technology Report”

In 2012, the World Economic Forum and INSEAD (the European Institute of Business Administration) created a report titled “The Global Information and Technology Report”. The goal of the report was to explore the impact of ICTs on productivity and development in varying countries. They collected data across time, through the Networked Readiness Index. This measures the “degree to which economies across the world leverage ICT for enhanced competitiveness”. Moreover, the hope is that stakeholders track their economy’s strengths and weaknesses. They have found that since 2002, the NRI has been mostly steady, which has allowed them to detect trends over time.

The report is divided into 4 parts.

  1. A conceptual framework of NRI and the findings
  2. Two case studies of efforts to develop ICTS: Azerbaijan and Mauritius
  3. Detailed profiles for 142 countries and their economies, including different country comparisons and different variables
  4. Data Tables for each of the 53 variables to compare different countries.

They concluded that Europe has the best efforts to leverage ICT to transform its economy and society, and the Nordic countries are the most successful countries in the entire world. Central and Eastern Europe have very mixed results — there are various characteristics and challenges. Of the Commonwealth of independent States, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Azerbaijan rank the highest, and have affordable access to iCT infrastructure. Asia and the Pacific region have some of the most innovative and digitized nations — and have 6 countries that are in the top 20 (Taiwan, china, the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. On the other hand, Latin America and the Carribean falls behind in adopting ICT and technology in general (although the exceptions are Barbados, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Uruguay).

For my country report, I researched ICTs in Argentina. This report was extremely helpful, as they have a multitude of data tables for almost every country. Argentina has no official ICT policy, so gathering data was an obstacle for my paper. But there are over 50 variables put into data tables — ranging from Mobile network coverage rate to Adult Literacy Rate to Impact of ICT on New Services and Products.


ICTs and the Achievement of the MDGs, and Goal 3 in Particular

One certainty is that there will be no adequate measurement or tracking of the relative status of women without the application of ICT… Moreover, it is only by the application of ICT that there is any hope of adequately unravelling the complex casual patterns in gender discrimination and of planning effective public gender policies”.

As discussed previously in both class and on this blog, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out to eradicate poverty by 2015. Goal 3 is to “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women”, and more specifically to eliminate the gender disparity in primary and secondary education. This is important because gender equality is fundamental to international development and poverty eradication. However, in his article, ICTs and MDGs: On the Wrong Track, Richard Heeks points out some of the main issues with MDGs, most specifically that they don’t use or address ICTs.

Since the creation of the MDGs, there seems to be a consensus on the idea that ICTs can help women achieve equality (despite the current inequalities in ICT access). One report by the UNDP’s Central and Eastern Europe Office titled Bridging the Gender Digital Divide analyzes the relationship between gender and ICT and makes a series of recommendations for the UN. One of their main recommendations is to “Deepen knowledge on the link between ICTs and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”, specifically relating to Goal 3. The report says that ICT “can serve as an invaluable tool for those striving to meet the target and to improve their performance for these indicators”. Moreover, they would like more attention to be given to integrating gender with Goal 8 (Develop a Global Partnership for Development), which would mean ICT benefits for everyone.

Other recommendations include a “gender-focused ICT assessment” to identify which technologies are most user-friendly, commonly used, and accessible for women. For example, older technologies are often cheaper and therefore more accessible for women. Both this report, along with another report by Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, discuss that the main problem is the lack of gender ICT statistics available. The UNDP article writes, “The lack of data is a fundamental constraint for evaluating the gender impact of ICTs and women’s position in the ICT sector”. Therefore, they recommend a more extensive assessment to discover which strategies can be used to eliminate gender inequality through the use of ICTs.