In The Politics To Go Handbook, the text message is noted as one of the most important uses of mobile communication for advocacy mobilization, largely for its ubiquitous nature (nearly everyone in America and even most citizens in a number of developing countries own a mobile phone) and for its ability to reach people whenever, wherever they are. The text is an especially powerful tool for coordinating large groups of people in a time-sensitive situation. Yet, editor Julie Barko Germany and her team note that a text serves as more than a “push” medium. It should be used as the glue that holds together pieces of a campaign.
For example, in 2001 hundreds of thousands of Philippines gathered together to oust President Estrada. Over 70 million text messages went out over a span of several days that drew increasing numbers of people to the protest. The text messages, in combination with radio and television coverage, served to educate citizens. The combination of visual imagery provided by the television and print stories, along with the reach of the radio and the immediacy of text messaging, served to mobilize a large group to support the ousting.
I was struck by contributor, Clay Shirky’s, point that using mobile technology can “replace planning with coordination”. Rather than saying “I’ll meet you at the bar at eight”, people now text “call when your meeting is over and we’ll grab a drink”. We are becoming less specific with our plans and more fluid and spontaneous in our coordination.
This trend can be dangerous for those who use mobile technology for advocacy purposes. If we have databases of hundreds of thousands of constituents, but are not thoughtful in our planning and coordination tactics, we will have a long list of constituents who aren’t bought into the mission enough to take action when the time comes.
It is also interesting to note that these social networking tools can be used for both helpful and harmful causes. Alan Rosenblatt, author of Dr. Digipol, posted a statement by the Aryan Resistance, a white supremacist movement in the United States. The post highlights the Aryan Resistance’s online social communications savvy, as described in detail by the group’s leader in 1998. The group’s goal was to raise awareness for their cause and recruit new supporters. Though the post does not tell us whether or not the group was successful with their tactics, the strategies noted are similar to the ones mentioned in the Politics To Go Handbook, which was created years later in 2005.
While it is interesting and helpful to consider mobile technology strategies that can be used to promote a political position, aid a humanitarian cause, or help secure democracy in some part of the world, we also need to keep in mind that these tools can be used for harm.