Tag Archives: Social Media

A Frightening Future: Tech and Self-Image


A recent observation combined with current ICT4D discussion in our classroom has sparked my interest in the relationship between self-image and access to technology. It’s hard to escape the boundless pictures of babies on social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. This generation now has every moment of their lives documented. From the moment they are able to figure out a camera, they know what they look like instantly. Every bad day and every life phase are instantly sealed in time. The impact marketing and media have on girls’ self-esteem is a messy and popular debate in American society. What have we done? Added even more to that loaded conversation. I started thinking to myself, what will happen to a generation that grew up with such easy access to photos of themselves?

When I was little I don’t remember ever looking at pictures of myself, most likely because it took so long to get them developed and they were only reserved for special occasions like Christmas pictures. Now, any child within reach of a smart phone (or usually what’s worse, any parent within reach of a smart phone) has access to countless snapshots of trivial day-to-day activities. They get to stare at pictures of themselves daily. Will this create a bigger issue than we realize? I am totally willing (and hopeful) to accept the fact that this will just be another thing kids don’t really “get” and they will not internalize it. But on the other hand, knowing how you look and judging yourself on how your pictures turn out from the day you’re able to comprehend what you look like is a little frightening. We see so many blogs dedicated to baby fashion or every mommy blogger taking photos of their children and uploading them daily. Are we going to have a bunch of baby narcissists? Who grow up to be worse, big people narcissists? It’s not only that we should be concerned with. It creates a micro-world that takes focus off bigger issues than a girl’s day-to-day “selfie” appearance.

We have a long running debate now about how much media confuses girls’ identity and relationship to themselves. We worry about whether Facebook makes us have FOMO or feel insecure. We worry that in seeing pictures of ourselves it sticks with us and shapes our perspective on our appearance. What if little girls (and to expand the narrative, little boys)  are constantly looking through the pictures they have of themselves wondering if they like what they see?

It all depends on which school of thought you belong to or which dataset you decide to fall back on. But, none of us can ignore the fact that there is always going to be something a little off with being too attached to appearance and technology has made this even more challenging.

I see this affecting more than just the developed world. We like to focus on the perks of technology for developing countries, but there’s a chance they could learn in advance from a few of the faults. While we use social media and technology to feel “up to speed” or “in the moment” it has actually done the opposite. The natural motion of life has been disturbed and our image along with it distorted. Before fully adapting technology into daily life, this should be considered in retrospect.

Muslim feminists online

While doing some general research on social media activism, I came across an article about social media platforms dedicated to the efforts of Muslim feminists. With images of Muslim women wearing burqas and the tragically inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai in my mind, I do not readily associate feminism with having a significant role in the Muslim religion. It turns out that there are numerous blogs written by Muslim women trying to reinterpret their religion with a feminist point of view. Sadia Ali wrote this blog post about her discovery of Muslim feminists online and how she went on to create pages on several social media platforms for these women to be able to collaboratively study the role of their gender within Islam. She reports that the conversations that ensued between women on these sites are harmonious, empathetic and genuinely curious. Some reject the idea that social roles should be based on gender while some do not. Most basically and most practically, ICTs contribute to development improving access to necessary information. However, I believe that  the ICT of social media can go beyond these basics. Allowing a marginalized population to virtually come together can redevelop cultural values and preconceived notions, with time potentially leading to a widespread lifestyle change. I know this sounds overly optimistic, bordering on naive (unless I’m already there), but a culture’s reconsideration of its treatment and perception of either gender must begin with an honest conversation, particularly revolving around the original source (whether it be a holy text, constitution, etc.). Although cyberactivism is not completely understood and is widely criticized for not making a significant impact, it does have the ability to open up such conversation, as exemplified by Ali’s Muslim Feminism Facebook page.

Social Gaming and Development


      Social Gaming is one very interesting aspect of social media. First off its a big business almost 68.7 million people in America played social games in 2012, and the business brought in 3.06 billion dollars that just in the United States alone! Secondly, social gaming is huge on the international scene, its difficult to find numbers but 55% of ALL Facebook users said that they play social games, and pointing to my on experience in many games like WoW and battlefield the number of international players is amazing. So what does this mean for development? Well three points, development games, community building, and why video games are so successful, are all important regarding development. First we have already seen how face book social games can be used for development purposes like the “Are you game?” woman’s health game. Social games can be yet another avenue for development messages and information. Another thing that video games do is build community, both domestically and internationally. International development could make use of this social space in all the ways it makes use of social spaces. In addition IDEV could use video games could reach populations that normally are anti-social or are difficult to reach. Finally video games and social games make learning fun! Every action and piece of information learned is associated wit a reward, if your ICT4D has anything to do with educating anyone, you might want to take a little extra time to learn what you can from social games. They combine increasing difficulty, instantaneous reward, active participation, and they are fun which certainly increases the amount of learning. In any case games can be helpful in a development perspective.






Redefining Activism

“The marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past—even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the Internet.”


These words articulated by Malcolm Gladwell in a 2010 article for The New Yorker describe our generation’s tendency to praise the communication of the day-especially social media-in shaping the course of history. Gladwell eloquently persuades the reader that social media’s role by activists in implementing change, particularly revolution, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Activism today can be seen in the case of the “Twitter Revolution” in Iran. Indeed, most of the tweets were coming from the West, in english.  Counter this with the sit-ins that helped spark the civil rights movement, in which individuals faced grave threat to physically stand up for what they believe in.  These days, one can make their facebook status a petition to stop puppy mills and they consider themselves an activist. Movements need some serious risk takers.  Another issue lies in the networking structure of social media, where decisions are based on consensus and there lies no central authority. Gladwell believes systemic change must be driven by a hierarchical organization capable of reaching consensus and setting goals.

Is Gladwell right? Yes and no. Yes, social media has redefined what we consider activism, what I like to call “activism for sissies.” I agree that systemic change, like a revolution, probably needs to be spearheaded by a hierarchical organization. But social media is a vital tool in amounting followers and communicating events.  It’ networking structure enables the sharpening, spreading and building of knowledge. Knowledge that can ignite a revolution.

Is Turkey’s Twitter Ban Really a Legal Issue?

“Twitter, mwitter! We will wipe out roots of all” —  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey

The Turkish government banned Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo on Thursday, March 20th, after the social media network had been used to disseminate recordings of telephone conversations and disclosed documents that appeared to incriminate government officials and some of their family members and associates in a extensive corruption investigation.  The Twitter block occurred 10 days prior to local elections.

After trying to reason with Twitter and get the company to remove content, the government issued a statement describing Twitter’s lack of cooperation and the possibility of a ban going forward. Many Twitter users reported blockages on Twitter immediately and others quickly advertised websites to circumnavigate the block.

While some may say that the Twitter ban is a matter of national security, others see this as just one of many examples of Turkey becoming increasingly intolerant of free speech. Government believes that because companies like Twitter and YouTube are international companies, they have to respond in accordance with the individual countries customs and culture. Turkish government is of the belief that they have the right to maintain the dignity of individuals, and if social media compromises dignity, they can interfere.  This is an interesting statement on social media and the permanency of the Internet. Government opponents reject this explanation as they use it to organize, and saw the ban as a way to prevent them from voicing their opinions and decimating the leaked data and information prior to the elections. So, is ban on Twitter really a legal issue? Well, I would say that while it halted some of the citizens’ ability to organize and share information, many were able to get around the blocked site and accomplish what they had hoped to. At the same time, I believe that the reasoning being used to describe the government’s actions is unfair and is certainly in violation of human rights.

Is Social Media a New Foreign Policy Tool?

Last week the Associated Press published findings about a now defunct social media platform, called ZunZuneo, designed to undermine the Cuban government. ZunZuneo was created by two private contractors: Creative Associates International (CAI) from Washington DC and the Denver-based company Mobile Accord. Both companies have a prior history of undertaking contracts for U.S. government democracy initiatives in developing countries. The AP reporters also uncovered details showing that funding for ZunZuneo was provided by USAID. 

The USAID has vehemently defended the program. The head of USAID told Congress,  “Working on creating platforms to improve communication in Cuba and in many other parts of the world is a core part of what USAID has done for some time and continues to do.” However, the AP article quotes USAID documents that specifically say ZunZuneo was created to “push (Cuba) out of a stalemate through tactical and temporary initiatives, and get the transition process going again.”

Supporters of the project noted the important role that social media has played in politics across the world, explaining how “text messaging had mobilized smart mobs and political uprisings in Moldova and the Philippines, among others.” The AP article also mentioned Iran and the fact that “USAID noted social media’s role following the disputed election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009 — and saw it as an important foreign policy tool.” As more and more of the world’s population is connecting to social media everyday, its not surprising to see it being used by governments and organizations to instigate and support political change.


About.me is best described as an all inclusive page about yourself. On about.me you can upload your resume, your business card, and connect it to pretty much any other social media website that you use. I would compare about.me to myspace for business professionals. This is because with about.me your home page is very visual. Unlike on facebook or linkedin, about.me has the ability to edit a background picture and control all of the different fonts, so that when people are viewing your page they are not only seeing the content that you are putting up, but they are also seeing all of the different visual aspects to make your page yours and visually appealing. About.me is used a lot by different freelance workers as a way to promote themselves and is used instead of making an entire website. On your about.me homepage you see different people popping up in a similar fashion to the facebook newsfeed. The picture of the person is the largest thing, taking up nearly the entire page, again emphasizing the visual aspect of the website. Underneath the picture you can see the person’s name and the beginning of their bio. When clicking on their page you can be connected to all of the social media websites that the person is connected to, along with a big background picture and fun fonts. Returning to the homepage, when looking at different people you can view their profile, compliment them, or add them to a collection. All in all about.me is essentially a mini website for business individuals looking for work or just to put themselves out there.

Social Media Use in Developing Countries

Our class discussion this week made me nostalgic for the simple, old technology we grew up with. It seemed like we grew up in a time when technology was developing at lightning speed. It made me wonder if technology around the world is moving as fast. This article from LiveScience.com talks about social media use in developing countries versus the US. The data shows that while the US has the highest population percentage that uses the internet, 17 developing countries outrank the U.S. in the proportion of internet users who log on to social sites. In both the U.S. and Brazil, 73% of Internet users regularly access social networking sites. Egypt, Russia, the Philippines, Tunisia, Indonesia, Jordan, Venezuela, Nigeria, Turkey, Ghana, Mexico, Chile, Malaysia, Kenya, Argentina, El Salvador and Senegal all report social media use greater than 73% of Internet users. I thought this was very interesting because it seems like our society is obsessed with social media but apparently we aren’t the only ones.

The article also mentions that cellphone use is increasingly widespread outside of the US. Unlike us, however, most cellphone users don’t have smart phones. In China, for example, 95% of people have a cell phone but only 37% of those have a smart phone. In Pakistan, 53% of people have cellphones and only 3% use smartphones. Nearly every person I know in the US has an iPhone, so its interesting to see that not every society is obsessed with having the newest technology out there.

Rural Telecenters- What Works, And What Doesn’t?

In Richard Heek’s ICT4D Manifesto, he describes how rural telecenters became “the archetype” of the ICT4D 1.0 movement of the 1990’s and 2000’s. Tried and proven successful in North America and Europe in the 80’s, they were attractive to the West for multiple reasons: they were simple to install, they directly delivered services to the poor, and they were tangible projects in poverty-stricken communities. Yet Heeks is quick to point out that they were inherently flawed from their inception. They were unsustainable over the long term, as they fell into disrepair and qualified maintenance professionals were hard to find. They had limited reach, as they were only accessible to those in walking distance and could not be used by many in the community. Finally, monitoring and evaluation were overlooked, and those stories that were successful were over emphasized to the detriment of those telecenters that did not find the same outcome. Given these systematic failures Heek’s description of ICT4D 2.0 leaves rural telecenters out entirely as he strives to detail projects that are less inherently flawed.

During a search of Heek’s manifesto bibliography, I was led to an publication that offered an alternative to a localized rural telecenters. The newsletter, published by a id21.org, described a project known as “Mobile Ladies” that is active in rural Bangladesh. In 2004 in Dhaka, the Development Research Network established a Rural Information Helpline that linked rural villagers to internet- connected responders to which they could give “common livelihood” queries. However, as 20% of the country still did not have mobile telephone coverage, millions of people could not access the Helpline. Thus ‘Mobile Ladies’ was formed, an initiative that employs village women by giving them a special cell phone so that they can listen to their neighbor’s issues and advise them on possible solutions within several days. According to id21, over 1/2 of the cases are health- related, and other inquires are related to agriculture, human rights issues (including legal advice in cases of rape, physical assault, or dowries), and education. Statistics reveal that 80% of those served are satisfied with the information they receive, 36% of the beneficiaries are housewives, and 89,000 women could potentially be employed by the project. Mobile Ladies also upholds a ‘no exclusion’ policy so that every villager can access the telecenter regardless of their caste, literacy, gender, or physical status, a vital approach in communities where many are marginalized on the basis of these characteristics.

Case studies from Bangladesh offer personal accounts of how Mobile Ladies has provided villagers with vital information that they otherwise would have been unable to obtain. The project has its flaws, however. It is expensive, and it is difficult to monitor the Mobile ladies themselves. Information can be lost in translation, and it is hard for the poor to turn it into action when they lack even the most basic of resources. However, with research I found that Mobile Ladies has adapted to changing trends in technology by offering social media and skype connections to their clients, revealing how the project is making strides towards sustainability as the first world innovations widen the digital gap. Mobile Ladies does not improve infrastructure or establish the backwards linkages and processes Heeks calls for in his manifesto, but its ability to acquaint rural villagers with modern technology and to provide hundreds of women with pay checks makes it an intriguing developmental tactic. Mobile Ladies provides a buffer against the widening gap as Bangladesh tries to catch up and ensures that some of their poorest citizens are able to benefit from ICT.

VoIP Drupal: Internet for all

According to MIT’s Center for Civic Media (the inventors and current caretakers of the software)  VoIP DRUPAL is a, “unified communications framework that brings the power of voice and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites. It can be used to build hybrid applications combining regular touchtone phones, web, SMS, Twitter, IM and other communication tools in a variety of ways.” In other words VoIP Drupal is an open source program that aims to link cellphones and websites in a variety of ways. Designers can build applications using the VoIP Drupal platform that can be accessed in ways that do not require internet access or even literacy.

For example, a blog based website that uses this technology, can be accessed and edited solely through a regular old-school cell phone (one with only a number keypad). The user would call the number linked with the website, the blog in this case. A voice would then read out a menu that will bring the user to different sections of the website. Once a section of the website, once again in this case a blog post, is selected, a voice will read out the contents to the user. The user can then reply by selecting the correct option and recording their own voice message. This message will be translated into text by the VoIP software, and then uploaded online.

Just a few of the many possible applications for this technology:

  • Voice- and SMS-based Go Out to Vote campaigns
  • 2-1-1, 3-1-1 and other information hotlines
  • Phone-based community surveys
  • Interactive reminders
  • Story recording / playback
  • Group voicemail
  • Language training
  • Audio tours
  • Interactive community radio programs
  • Geo-based callblasts aimed at specific streets or location

The massive potential VoIP Drupal has for development efforts really excites me. It is an open sourced, sandbox technology, enabling potential website designers the freedom to easily create the kind of website they need (using the right VoIP applications). Summarized in the words of the VoIP Drupal Factsheet, “VoIP Drupal comes with an extensive collection of ready-made modules that provide voicemail, click-to-call, phone recording, audio blogging, dialplan scripting and other high-level functionality, dramatically simplifying application development.” This platform can allow communities without internet to access key websites. It can also allow development workers to organize automated text-campaigns among other potential uses. Overall this seems to be a great technological platform and it will be great to see how and when this really takes off.

Link to MIT Center for Civic Media: Here
Link to VoIP Drupal fact sheet: Here