Twittering And YouTubing To A Better IraqTwittering And YouTubing To A Better Iraq
Executives from Web 2.0 darlings including Twitter, YouTube, and WordPress are on a U.S. State Department tour of Iraq, looking for ways that social media can help. The tools, if used wisely, could be helpful at bringing people together and organizing in the war-torn country.
April 21, 2009
Executives from Web 2.0 darlings including Twitter, YouTube, and WordPress are on a U.S. State Department tour of Iraq, looking for ways that social media can help. The tools, if used wisely, could be helpful at bringing people together and organizing in the war-torn country.Guests of the State Department include Twitter chairman and founder Jack Dorsey, who visited the U.S. Embassy and tweeted, "The embassy has yoga dances. And belly dancing."
The trip includes CEOs and senior representatives of nine companies: AT&T, Google, Twitter, Howcast, Meetup, YouTube, Automatic/Wordpress, and Blue State Digital. The State Department describes the goal:
During their visit to Iraq, they will provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building. As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite the American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis.
Iraq seems like a good candidate for leveraging social media; it has good network penetration, although it also has a lot of work to do building out its technology infrastructure, according to Raanan Bar-Cohen, who represents Automatic, which develops WordPress.
Mobile phone use is nearly universal in Iraq. However, the country is served by various phone networks, resulting in a "bit of comical" situation -- many residents carry at least two phones from separate providers to ensure that they are always connected....
Five percent of the country has Internet access at home, but a larger unknown percentage of Iraqis get online at Internet cafes, he wrote. Because of the ubiquity of mobile phones, text messaging is very popular.
"There is also a ton of SMS (short message service) usage here, which is encouraging as it may provide an alternative means of interacting with certain services as Iraqis wait for internet broadband (to) develop," Bar-Cohen wrote.
The country is working to improve Internet connections, but efforts have been hampered by "sabotage missions which disrupt the work" and other factors, he said.
"The optimistic projections are for Iraq to be at around 60% broadband penetration in about 18-24 months if things go according to plan," he wrote.
A tall order -- but not crazy-utopian. Social media is a powerful tool for democracy, as seen most recently in Moldava, when anti-Communist protesters used Twitter to organize and publicize their uprising:
A crowd of more than 10,000 young Moldovans materialized seemingly out of nowhere on Tuesday to protest against Moldova's Communist leadership, ransacking government buildings and clashing with the police.
The sea of young people reflected the deep generation gap that has developed in Moldova, and the protesters used their generation's tools, gathering the crowd by enlisting text-messaging, Facebook and Twitter, the social messaging network.
The protesters created their own searchable tag on Twitter, rallying Moldovans to join and propelling events in this small former Soviet state onto a Twitter list of newly popular topics, so people around the world could keep track.
And, of course, President Obama leveraged social media in his election.
But social media can also be used for evil; last year, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman condemned terrorist recruitment videos on YouTube.
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