Welcome to the InfoWars

Being part of Ushahidi has given us a front row seat to what I like to term the “InfoWars“. A time when it seems like the fourth and fifth estates are pitted against the other three.

  • The US is clueless in response to the Wikileaks release of war documents
  • The music and film industries continue to lose to the open web
  • South Africa seeks to muzzle the press
  • The UAE takes on RIM over the ability to read everyone’s email
  • In Australia you can’t link to certain sites from your personal website
  • More and more countries require SIM card registration on phones to track users

…it goes on.

This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s a reaction by those in the status quo (be they government, big business or large established organizations) to the inefficiencies that they represent in the system being overcome by changes in technology and culture. As the open web expands it becomes a real threat to controlling governments, even to the relevance of the nation state itself.

The Case of the Russian Fires

Blogging and social media have been utilized for transparency and accountability for a number of years. While that’s interesting in its own right, I find the translation of those online tools into offline activities far more compelling.

The Russian forest fires is a particularly interesting one, as it represents what appears to be a major shift in ownership and attitudes in Russia around governance and responsibility. At the same time, one of the main tools used to organize it was the Ushahidi platform (giving me that little bit of liberty to write some thoughts on the bigger picture).

“On the one hand, cooperation was empowered by a shared understanding that the government has failed to get the situation under control and, moreover, didn’t want to be held accountable for it. On the other hand, it was information technologies that provided both information exchange and tools for coordination and effective collaboration.”

Please, read the full Global Voices article on the Russian fires.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I don’t see too many governments being displaced or replaced by online cooperation alone. Trust, reputation and resources are just a few of the hurdles to overcome before that happens. Instead, I think we’re seeing the continuation of the refinement of mass movements, brought about by the inefficiencies in the system, which catch on faster and are enabled better online and then move offline for impact.

9 Responses to “Welcome to the InfoWars”

  1. The clash you call Info Wars is smoldering on the periphery of all governmental institutions. Civil society, recognizing it’s new freedom to apply principles of democracy in an ad hoc and situation appropriate manner, puts elected officials in a marginalized role, their authority having been displaced by “spontaneous elections” occurring online. Society’s proclivity to hand over decision making to representatives who we believe will act in our interest is a zero sum game. We know instinctively that multiple masters of a task is horribly inefficient, so we willing cede control to only one rep. at a time. Increasingly, we find the needs of society are being met through direct representation online, particularly in unpredictable situations that call for immediate response. That Ushahidi and other systems for ad hoc response to crises emerged without gov’t involvement is strong testament to the reality that governments’ perpetuation of the status quo is becoming their primary function. The is particularly true in countries like the U.S. where property rights protections dominate the legislative and judicial systems. But don’t get me started.

    Thanks for all you do, Ushahidi. Please keep the keen insights coming.

  2. Scott I couldn’t agree with you more, I think what we are increasingly seeing is a shift in the information asymmetries that exist between government, corporate interests and citizens. ICT with an open network (which is why the mobile potato looks cool) both reduces costs for government service provision and enables more efficient social organization, but a “bad” regime can also use that to more efficiently enforce orthodoxy (cf north korea)

  3. The clash you call Info Wars is smoldering on the periphery of all governmental institutions.

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