Tag Archives: twitter

Still watching…How 140 characters can inform direct political action

June 2009 the world got much smaller. Citizens of every nation worldwide watched the events unfolding in Iran and as disbelief mounted into insecurity and anger the world spoke out. The last two weeks of June saw every venue for correspondence and discussion utilized in a manner that brought people and ideas together at a rapid pace. True dissidence was achieved, and not just through the on-the-ground protests of the Iranian people. Support for the state of Iran and its citizens grew around the world through on-line media and social news aggregators. Huffington Post and The Guardian hosted live feeds of the Iranian civil unrest and up to the minute news, reactions, and actions were documented through video footage, and visual images; and direct information were received on mass via text, e-mail and tweets.

There was an immediate and totalitarian crack down on all outside media, and all approved state sponsored news coverage was censored to an obscene point. However, Iranians and people around the world refused to let the censorship inform or cease communication. Technology nerds globally united to find digital solutions to an in-enforceable act. While the Iranian government was searching IP addresses to locate individuals, servers in multiple countries had been used to route multiple users and messages coming out of Iran to look as if they originated from towns in Poland, Wisconsin, or Alberta. E-mails, tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts, text messages… viral communication had reached a height yet to be documented. Critical information on targeted individuals and rally sites, on police crack downs and midnight arrests, on deaths and injuries were all spread quickly and immediately due to the incredible community that sprang up to support women and men we may never meet, in a country we may never visit.

Institutional actors, evident by their increased reliance on news aggregation, and social networking site, recognized this social outreach. Comments left on mainstream media’s coverage of the Iran unrest numbered in the thousands. Canadian coverage of the events were numerous and in-depth. Canadians were watching and they wanted the world and our government to know. While it may mean little on an individual level, upper level political actors notice, because showing that your listening to what your people care about translates into votes. Current demonstrations against Iran and the latest walkouts during the UN General Assembly meeting were likely correlated. While little was achieved in Iran during the un-rest, no one is supporting the Iranian governments actions.

Social media was effective for sharing information and news updates. Especially the social network so often cast aside as “the new Facebook”, which was “the new MySpace”, which was “the new Friendster.” So many do not recognize the inherent difference of these tools. The demographics that participate in these Internet based communities are significantly different from one another, leading to significantly different outputs.

Twitter engagement was high during the unrest and while superficial tokens of support were offered – the green wash over avatars and a green ribbon on the bottom right hand corner – there was also support to many people in Iran through server sharing and information repeated to cast a wider net upon the community. In Edmonton alone, saw an increase of twitter use for the week of June 12th – 16th, averaging 6800 tweets a day. Key search tags were quickly settled on to create a stream for the conversation. By searching #iranelection a person can get millions of posts made by hundreds of thousands of Twitter users, giving a board and direct picture of an event or that days highlights. Twitter and other sites became depended on for spreading information and relaying human rights abuses. So much so, the United States government asked the host of Twitter to reschedule a regular severe maintenance that would have resulted in a blackout of Twitter use for a period of several hours. While this would not be the end of the unrest nor would it cease Iranians from protesting, it could have lead to a breakdown in information and painstakingly set up viral networks.

This change in accessing information became a personal exploration, nay, an obsession for myself during the weeks after June 12th. Twitter, Huffington Post and The Guardian were open on my laptop twenty four hours a day and my data use from my PDA was higher that I though I could get it. This is likely atypical, I know a few people as current event obsessed as myself and I prefer to think there are more people than not who chose sanity over constant torment. The interaction available through web 2.0 programming was incredible. Being able to reach out and to know minute-to-minute updates of rallies or police crackdowns was an experience I find hard to put into tangible values. I was so involved, a virtual participant in a situation I had no physical stake in and for a cause I could do little to influence other than lending my voice to the cry. I felt impotent and disillusioned. Hoping that I could influence my government, who would in turn use international pressure to influence the state of Iran, it felt like I was trying to build a house with a toothpick. No tools for chance, I continually questioned what my role could be.

That did not stop my interactions though, if anything it fueled them. At the very least, I felt a responsibility to remain informed and not shield myself from these all too important events. The video clips and radio updates from journalists that chose to remain in Iran under cover were all pieces of information I relied upon to understand the great picture. Iran’s unrest did not end at its borders, it split into the streets of Ottawa and London.

Citizens worldwide are still using these technologies to continue documenting the history of what is happening. The arrests are continuing in Iran, people are still under a totalitarian government and while the international community imposes sanctions, it is not the elite that are starving it is the small rural villages that go without. Maybe social media cannot fix the world, but it has changed it.

Originally published: October 1st, 2009. Features Editor, The Meliorist, University of Lethbridge. Volume 43, Issue 04.

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Still that old Groucho Marx joke…

I tend to let myself live in a isolated community where Question Period is a common topic of conversation and policy amendments are debated on the level of “sexiness” the issue has potential to become. In that world, it is an easy belief that everyone is interested in political games, in outcomes, in process.

Although I can see through the crack in the door to where the outside world begins, I often chose to believe that their light is as bright as mine and that we cannot be alone in outrage and interest. Sometimes I am grossly disappointed, but sometimes I am blinded with surprise.

Bill 44. Many people *much brighter and more insightful then myself have written thoughts and potential consequences on the recently proposed amendment to the Human Rights Commission by the Alberta Government.

While I do strongly believe (and have been vocal about in other venues) that there is much to be concerned about with this amendment; such as the confusion within PC’s own caucus on how the amendment can be interpreted within the current Alberta curriculum, questions on individual school boards autonomy within notification of parents, the lack of support from the ATA and lastly, the underlying motivation for this less then popular amendment.

There are many people entering the discussion of this particular amendment. Not just people in the proverbial ‘circle’, but people who have little or nothing to gain themselves. People who don’t use, need, or care about political capitol, people who are for the most part left out of the decision making process.

Twitterverse has been active on this issue, with private citizens engaging MLA’s       (noticeably Lindsay Blackett and Dave Hancock themselves engaging back), bloggers being incredibly active in updating the public sphere on new ideas  (ie. daveberta) and discussion points and Facebook notes and groups springing up on a daily basis.

In all the blogs, in all the tweets, in all the bar room discussions I have had regarding political events I have been struck suddenly, taken aback and set to pause, truly appreciating what public engagement really is.

A anti Bill 44 Facebook group stopped me dead in my tracks. Using the same arguments that many others have, there is no radical reform ideas which caused me to pay attention. What caused me to pause and too appreciate is that this group was created by a student, a high school student, a high school student from my High School Alma Mater in fact. Declaring their indignation at a very certain and very distinct piece of legislation. With a mere 205 members (at this evenings count) this group is small in the social networking scheme but the discussion wall is active and there is real discourse there. Void of the usual political rhetoric and with no QP style name calling, this is what public engagement aspires to be.

Social media, with its networking sites and lists of interests you fill out to attract like minded people, can be good. Facebook reinvented the way marketers look at advertising, it stimulated the growth of the worst industry known to man, “cool hunters” and it suddenly did what forums and chat sites have been desiring to do for oh-so long. It created acceptable and use able web space. Regardless of the social site used, each and every one exists as firmly as any idea or thought or spoken sentence can.

This is the conversation needed to be brought in to truly understand where any community is on issues. Lets stop relaying on the tried and true methods, because they have been tried but are no longer true.

When Blackett tweeted “LindsayBlackett wants Albertans to know that their arte 30,000 inquiriese to the Human Right Commission each year and 900 are deemed to have merit.” this evening at app. 10:20 this evening, he was speaking to the people and likely he was responding to a the earlier tweets today about Bill 44. He was using twitter as a legitimate form of political discussion and policy process.

Despite the ban on twitter use in the house during QP by our long standing Speaker, this medium is being used to influence decisions, or at the very least openly question them.

Not to endorse cyber communication as the be all and end all of our public debate, but let us not close the door to it. All too many of the influential decision makers still scoff at these communication methods, and in their caged thinking they lose what they have been looking for.

Want youth to participate? Well, they are. Demanding that anyone participate on your playing Field only is not representation in any sense, it is arrogance and it is a sure sign of blind folded defeat.

*There are many who have provided me with much to think on in regards to this bill, notably Ken Chapman and Paula Simons.

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Call for Albertan’s to create and achieve (a new slogan…)

Word on the street (re: Twitter and CTV) is that Alberta’s new slogan will be “Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve”. This new string of words will cost taxpayers $25 million over three years to “re-brand Alberta”.

I heard this tasty tidbit a few hours ago and have been pondering since, is this truly fitting for the new Alberta? A vague and much less direct approach in comparison to the previous slogan “Alberta Advantage” which was ditched sometime after the price of oil dropped faster then Diplo’s beats, this new slogan was supposed to be more fitting to the current Alberta and the culture within. “Freedom to Create” begs some interesting interpretations. Is the AB government interested in calling attention to our incredible, although underfunded artist groups? Is Alberta looking to increase our cultural capitol instead of our resource capitol? “Spirit to Achieve” I feel much better about. Albertan’s do indeed have spirit, one watch of Question Period proves that. We are a feisty bunch and even if it takes a bit to rile us up, once were there, it sticks around (re: NEP hate, still going strong).

All in all, the new slogan means nothing to me. Which is a very bad thing. I am not inspired, I am not proud and I am not really sure what it means. I do not disagree that “Alberta Advantage” no longer suits, but if we are going to make a change, lets do it right.

“Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve.”

Maybe this is a joke and the slogan is actually just a advertising ploy to “create and achieve” a real slogan. Fingers crossed.

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How 10 people, some cold concrete and a cardboard shelter revived my optimism

Last night I spent the wee hours of the morning with the five individuals who have been campaigning and sleeping outside for the 5 Days for Homeless national campaign as well as my three co-workers, Eric, Brodie and Adam. It was fairly late/early when the four of us crawled into the makeshift cardboard shelter the five volunteers had created.

The night was terrible, am not even going to bother to sugar coat it. The ground was cold and the wind did not stop, the smell inside the shelter was a pungent combination of wet dog, feet and the kind of musk only a heap of unwashed humans can create.

10 of us were crammed into this shelter, which became pretty beneficial as despite the aroma that 10 unwashed people give off, 10 unwashed people also give off a lot of heat. The shelter was well made and supported so it was a fairly stable area to sleep in, however the constant fear of one of the 7-20 lb rock’s that were holding the roof down crashing through what seems like flimsy cardboard  kept me awake throughout most of the night.

Getting up this morning wasn’t all that bad. It was cold and grey but it seemed that once I woke up there was no more incentive for me to remain “in bed”. Unlike at home where my huge comforter and soft futon mattress beckon me long after I have begun my morning routine, there was nothing in the dank and cold cardboard ground I was sleeping on to keep me there.

The interesting thing about my sleep was the physiological aspect of being miserable. Annoyed at the wind, annoyed at the person shifting around next to me, annoyed that this is something people do every night, the negativity was more demoralizing then the physical discomfort.

This morning I shrugged on my neon colored jacket and hit the main area of campus to solicit some donations. Wearing the brightest piece of textile known to man I figured no one would be able to walk on past. How wrong I was. We have become so conditioned to ignore those who ask for help or look to be in less than desirable situations that many walked right on by even when it was abundantly clear I was not homeless.

The classic lines such as “I don’t carry change” or “I don’t have any change” (as they pat their pockets and a faint chinning noise can be heard) or the straight up walk-by-don’t-make-eye-contact-if-I-don’t-see-them-I-don’t-have-to-feel-guilty technique were all employed. The most frustrating one was the avoidance tactic. Of course, you see me, of course, you can hear me asking you and yet you chose to not acknowledge that another human being is speaking to you? Classy UofL. Not just students either, three professors walked right past me after I had asked them for change without saying a word or even making eye contact. A fine example they provided.

Those individuals, although numerous, were far out shadowed by all those who did stop and did give whatever they could. Whether it was $10.00 or $0.10 every amount is truly appreciated and even the acknowledgment means something. I also struck up a couple interesting conversations about the merit of the 5 Days events.

On professor questioned me on the use of humorous tactics to get donations and thought it to be making light of the situation and a poor reflection on the cause that is being advocated. While humor may look like the participants are making light, in fact humor is often used as a coping method when dealing with jarring life style changes or a threat to basic rights. These five individuals have chosen to do this for the week and came prepared for what was in store, however I doubt that psychologically any of them were ready for the constant cold, the loss of all comfort and the lack of support from many people.

This event is not about proving that five people can hack it as homeless, far from it. It is meant to create visible awareness about the homelessness problem all across Canada and act as a weeklong fundraiser for charitable organizations in Canadian cities. The part of being homeless that is harder to see and even harder to truly empathize with is the physiological aspect. Everyday not being sure of a hot meal, a warm bed or even a space to call your own; everyday some have no choice but to beg for change to afford coffee or some food. Worst of all is that many see no end to this lifestyle Yes, there resources available but those resources are scarce and there are many out there who fall to the bottom of the pile.

As a child, I didn’t have the most stable living environment. For reasons that are unnecessary to go into, growing up I experienced periods of uncertainty of where my family and myself would be sleeping that evening or that week or next week and how we would be able to move on from there. Thankfully my sisters and myself were incredibly fortunate in having family members who were able to support us and were able to ensure a level of safety and security and there came a time when housing and security were no longer questioned and just accepted as a right of life. Not every youth has those resources and that support system and not every homeless person is alike. There are varying reasons and motivations for turning to the streets, mental health issues and addictions notably, but there are the more subtle reasons. Depression is very common amongst those who are homeless and resource’s are hard for them to find as many of the resources available are specific to high needs individuals (re: families, addicts, those with mental health illness…). The working poor is also common, especially in Alberta. Abuse in the home is a prime motivator for someone to leave home, women’s shelters and youth emergency homes are often at capacity with women and children who have left their abusive enviroments but do not have the financial stability to support their families right away.

These past 12 hours have given me a great deal of optimism for the future of humankind. There are people who truly care and care enough to sacrifice basic needs to help those less fortunate.

Please give to those organizations who work tirelessly to provide resources in whatever city you live in. Every human being deserves to be treated as such and every human being deserves a little humanity in the face of hardship. I am sure that many are thanking all the participants of this event and without these individuals who took the time and made the effort the world wouldn’t be the same place. I thank them and I hope you will too.

(p.s. sorry I wasn’t able to live tweet, my BlackBerry stopped working yesterday which meant a cut off of all communication…)

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Goverment of Alberta creates site to correct media…

The Government of Alberta has created a site dedicated to …well…in their own words:

“All media outlets make mistakes, on occasion. Unfortunately, not all media outlets have a policy or forum to correct their mistakes. This site exists to help in that situation.”

This is a departure from the typical way governments (all sorts) minimize the impact and subsequent damage from bad press. Refusing to comment, issuing press releases to contradict press reports, even going as far as to influence media conglomerates to no longer carrying articles written by certain “radicals” (see Avi Lewis and Canwest’s blockade of journalists critical of Liberal government).

An interesting choice by Alberta’s conservative government who is no stranger to taking direct action against those they disagree with (see Daveberta’s fight with Ed Stelmach over a $14.00 domain name). This site is small and has had little no media coverage about its creation (though, would that only lead to another “media correction”?) and I wonder how effective it will be to help dispel what the Alberta Government believes to be unfair and untruthful rumours.

I also wonder if it means an all out media war right here in our sleepy province. Government v. media…What would such a fight look like?

Blogs erupting with rhetoric and biased perspectives, media conglomerates forcing their EiC’s hands, twitter mania…

Oh wait. We’re already here.

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