Posts on Iran, new media and citizen journalism

I’ve been inundated with links on how new media is helping us understand what’s going on in Iran after its recently held Presidential elections.

In order to understand the broader context of who uses new media in Iran, why and how, the Berkman Centre’s Mapping Iran’s Online Public is essential reading.

A few articles on new media and the fallout of the Presidential elections in Iran I found genuinely insightful are:

What you need to understand about the riots in Iran and Twitter from Canada’s World
Tehran, Twitter, and Tiananmen by Dan Rather
Tehran, Twitter, and Tiananmen by the Washington Post
The Iranian Uprisings and the Challenge of the New Media by Henry Giroux in Counterpunch

Evgeny Morozov’s Texting Toward Utopia: Does the Internet spread democracy?, which to me is a definitive essay on the pros and cons of the web and Internet augmenting democracy also resonates with the observations in these articles.

In a slightly lighter vein, I have also looked at why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s help in developing IT and e-government in Sri Lanka is urgently needed and would be roundly welcomed.

Ameritocracy: Challenging the status quo(te)!

I like what I see at Ameritocracy. A lot. The idea is simple and effective – use the commons to ascertain the veracity of quotes from public figures and on vital social, political, economic and other issues. As noted on their site:

Ameritocracy enables the community’s collective brain to report, respond to, and rate succinct claims made by a person or organization.

  1. The community submits short quotes on any topic, citing a source where the quote can be verified.
  2. Brief responses can be added to either support, challenge or give more context to the quote. Responses must cite sources for their claims.
  3. Thoughtful responses can be marked as the best, bubbling up those with the most votes, and making it easier to find the most useful and reliable feedback.
  4. The community rates the quote for accuracy (fact-based claims) or credibility (opinion-based claims) and relevancy.
  5. Reputation scores are automatically generated for the person who added the quote, the person or organization that made the statement, people who added a response, and any sources used. Reputations encourage social capital and help the community identify the credibility of its members.

It’s a brilliant idea, if only as a record of public statements made by influential persons and changemakers. While I’ve seen similar initiatives on the web before, the rich interactivity, tagging and other features make this one of the most engaging sites I’ve seen.

Of course, the down side to this is that the commons will always be attracted to the topic of interest du jour, which may not always be the most interesting or important issue on which a quote needs to be judged. An example may be a quote by Hillary Clinton on Barack Obama, which will invariably generate more attention and feedback than one by a social changemaker say on black American literacy. The other is of course that Ameritocracy is precisely that – US centric. Though there are interesting quotes that are not (“The mobile phone may be the most potent tool ever invented for the elimination of poverty.”) it is the case that non-American’s or those with little interest in the domestic US politics may find little to keep them coming back to the site. For example, there’s only a single quote on peace on the site to date.

It’s also the case that as with Digg and Reddit, you’re going to find here content largely defined by (the parochial interests of) those who visit the site – the more who do, the richer the selection and quality quotes. On the other hand, with a growing number of quotes, the harder it is to actually comment on those pertaining to issues that one has an opinion on or is animated by.

However, it’s the idea that I like. If this can be done in languages other than English and in regions outside the US, I think it is a fairly powerful way to hold those who make statements on vital issues accountable for what they say. Imagine for example in Sri Lanka if we put up some quotes made by the politicians during electioneering and held them up for public scrutiny once they were elected to power?!

Websites like this really demonstrate the power of the web to augment democracy. They provide means through which citizens can engage with the ideas generation of politicians and express themselves. While the web based model works in the US, one idea would be to take this site and port it to mobiles. Citizens interested in issue areas can pre-register their mobiles on the website and be alerted via SMS whenever a new quote is posted that matches their criteria. They can then SMS back with a number on a scale that captures their response. More advanced versions for mobiles and mobile devices (e.g. the iPod Touch and smartphones) can perhaps run on native (thin) clients, allowing for the mass participation of citizens on issues that matter to them.

One idea for Ameritocracy – it would be great to embed the responses to a particular quote, a feature that the site at present does not have.

This simply is e-democracy at its best and an idea that could be very powerful if governments adopted it to animate democratic dialogues amongst citizenry.