Tag Archives: Equality

Hacktivism: Releasing the Power of Technology for Social Change

This week in class, we read an article on CNN concerning the state of internet censorship in North Korea. The essential message conveyed by the article is that North Korea is a long way from being a free and open society, especially when it comes to technology and accessing information through the Internet. Technology  and access to information is a powerful equalizer- applicable to all functions of equality from quality of education to economic opportunity. Conversely, as is the case with North Korea, technology can also be used as a tool of oppression by restricting access to information and the ability to communicate with the outside world.

Yesterday, CNN reported that the hacker collective identifying as themselves as Anonymous, is beleived to havhacked the official North Korea Flickr account and Twitter account. The Flickr account hosted a “wanted” poster with an image showing Kim with a pig’s ears and nose-accusing Kim of “threatening world peace with ICBMs and nuclear weapons.” Anonymous demanded the resignation of Kim, democracy in North Korea, and uncensored Internet access for all North Koreans.

The Anonymous collective is part of a greater movement called hacktisism, a form of electronic civil disobedience that employs the use of technology and internet to promote political ends, human rights, free speech  and information ethics. Hacktivism is carried out under the promise that proper use of technology produces an impact similar to those produced by protest, activism, and civil disobedience.


A recent opinion piece in the New York Times, explains a hacktivist as, “someone who uses technology hacking to effect social change”. The opinion piece classifies hacktivism as being “fundamentally  about refusing to be intimidated or cowed into submission by any technology, about understanding the technology and acquiring the power to repurpose it to our individual needs, and for the good of the many.” However, there is currently a divide between different interpretations of hacktivists. The conflict is between “those who want to change the meaning of the word to denote immoral, sinister activities and those who want to defend the broader, more inclusive understanding of hacktivists”.

Hacking is illegal. However, in some countries, protesting is as well. This leads to the question of whether the intent of hacking holds enough worth and importance to over-write the technical illegality of the act it-self. People in North Korea do not have the option to achieve change through social media simply by the fact that everything they do online is tied to their identity, making it very dangerous to speak out against the government or try to access information outside North Korea’s censored barriers. The utilization of technology and social media as a tool of social progress has proven to be imperative. Again and again, having access to social media has proven to be an invaluable tool in fighting oppression as exemplified in recent movements such as the Arab Spring and the Syrian conflict in which access to information and unbiased media sources is near impossible. If Anonymous hacked official North Korean sites to try to change the state of censorship, oppression and restricted access to information of its citizens, should it be considered illegal? Or should it be considered an act of civil disobedience committed for the betterment of North Korean citizens?

An article published by info security holds that ” regardless of political motivation or intent, if there are victims of the attacks they perpetrate, then hacktivism has crossed the line.” Conversely, hacking collectives like Anonymous believe that technologies should be in the hands of the people rather than out of their control, implying that the intent of their actions weighs more than the illegal nature of their hacks.

“Good Brain is Good Brain”

When discussing Gender and ICT4D, the biggest theme is of course, the “gender digital divide.” In many regions of the world where women don’t necessary have the same social mobility or financial independence as men, breaking into the field of technology can be quite the challenge. In fact, it’s an issue we still face at home in the U.S. and other “Global North” countries as well. However, with all this in mind, I wanted to focus my post today on one particular woman who has been successful in the tech field. According to eLearning Africa’s 5/29/12 article “For girls, it is possible to dream big,” native Kenyan Juliana Rotich started out as a “lonely, young ‘geek’ with oversized glasses at school. Today she is a highly successful tech entrepreneur who is a co-founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi, a homegrown non-profit tech company that has taken the world by storm.” This e-Learning Africa interview with Juliana is helpful not only because she serves as a positive role model for other girls and women to look up to but she can also provide an insider scoop on what techniques and social barriers exist for women interested in breaking into ICT.


ICT - Social Entrepreneur & Executive Director of Ushahidi (ICT non-profit)

ICT – Social Entrepreneur & Executive Director of Ushahidi (ICT non-profit)

Juliana started off by focusing on her childhood inspirations. She remembered first learning about Mae Jemison and her journey to the moon. Clearly, the emphasis here is placed on dreaming big. Young people often underestimate their potential by thinking they’re not good enough or need to reach some magical age before they can start pursuing certain interests, but Juliana argues ardently against that. Especially for young women to break into the technology which is still considered a “man’s world” is even more difficult.

In terms of the benefits of ICTs for women, of course there are the well-known links to economic growth and financial independence but additionally, Juliana talks about reaching a social and cultural standing of equality. “There is a friend who thinks a good brain is a good brain, either way. Whether it is a male brain or a female brain…” This is the type of change in mentality that needs to happen, not only in Africa but world-wide.  Finally, she speaks on the African notion of chama, which is “a group of women who come together, and they put in a pool of money to help each other. Now if we had a scientist within that mix, or a techie within that mix, they could create software to help that chama.” Women, being the social, integrative type that we are, have a huge advantage in acting as instruments of change within communities. Overall, I hope this post can serve as a reminder that women are rapidly expanding and entering the ICT field. Hopefully more examples like Juliana can change the mentality that Technology is strictly a “man’s world.”


Resources:  E-Learning Africa


Equality and Freedom: Not Just for the West – We’ve All Agreed Already

When discussing development, many bring up the argument that only locals know what they need, and that they are the ones that need to fuel development. They argue that it is presumptuous and arrogant for the developed world to think that there are problems in the “developing” world that we need to come in and fix.  I have even been told that the developed world is causing those problems in the developing world by getting involved in their affairs and identifying their “problems” and that the developing world only has “problems” because we say they do.  I say these people are wrong – it is crazy to think that all the problems in developing countries are caused by the world’s developed countries. It is clear that the developing world has problems that need to be fixed, and it is clear that the developed world needs to play a part in helping find solutions to these problems, and I’m not alone.

Golshifteh Farahani is an Iranian actress and model who was recently told by the Iranian Government that she is no longer welcome within her home country’s borders. Why? She recently posed for a french magazine, Madame Le Figaro topless, with her hands covering her breasts, in protest to Iran’s policies restricting women’s rights.  In support of Farahani and her message of gender equality, thousands around the world have taken to Facebook to create a movement.  A simple search on FB shows multiple pages which have been set up in her support. Let’s ask Farahani if the women’s rights situation in Iran is merely just a “problem” because the US says it is.  I bet she says “No”.

Farahani’s story is just one illustration of how far we are from obtaining gender equality and universal freedoms throughout the world.  Take one look at your TV. How many commercials involve semi-nude actors? Take a look at your US Constitution. The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

That’s right, you have the freedom of speech and the freedom to protest your government. These are fundamental rights that should be provided to every citizen of every country in the world.  The fact that women are not equal in Iran, the fact that they cannot wear whatever article of clothing they want in public, and the fact that an Iranian woman was banned from her country for voicing opposition to her government is a development problem that severely needs correcting.  As a problem of basic human rights, the US and the other developed nations need to be a beacon and steward for the way forward; not only in Iran, but in all nations where the government oppresses its populace.

One of the MDGs, number 3, is the Promotion of gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. MDG Target 8B: Address the special needs of the Least Developed Countries.

All 193 UN Member States have agreed to completing these goals – this includes Iran. These goals show how the Developed World must play a role in assisting the development of the LDCs.  So to all those out there who believe that the US, or any other developed country for that matter (and even NGOs), has no business spreading information and knowledge, and assisting development in other countries, you are wrong.  The entire UN has agreed that it is necessary for the developed world to be involved in the development of the developing world.  As for Farahani, if she wasn’t currently living a free life in France, she would never have been able to spread her message or protest her government.  And let’s also realize that the use of ICT has enabled her story to go global – on social media, blogs, on the news, etc… Hopefully her story will help all those people out there realize that western ideals about basic human freedoms must be spread throughout the world – and the UN agrees.