This is an article I co-wrote with Ayesha Carmouche for the 99% Youth Journal.

Having a smartphone these days is like having a set of keys to your house – a must have and an essential part of our daily lives. Smartphone usage has already crossed the 1 billion mark and is likely to double by 2015.

Yep we are all tapping away at our phones, looking for the latest news and chatting to our friends. But what does this mean for people living in fear of their lives and who are looking for new platforms to escape torture and abuse by governments and harmful groups? Political activists are now using mobile phone apps to get their views heard and to help communicate their stories to people across borders. Below are our top 5 apps that help individuals to do just that – organise for social change and make some noise!

Amnesty International’s Panic Button

Amnesty International has recently released its Panic Button app for Android. This new tool (which can be set to appear as a simple calculator) provides important protection for dissidents and activists, basically keeping them out of jail.  By transforming a smart phone into a secret alarm this app will help protect those who are at real risk at any time, of being kidnapped, arrested or disappeared in nations across the globe. Crucially, this means fellow activists can act straight away in response. The trigger is activated when the user rapidly presses the phones power button (five times in five seconds until a vibration occurs), which sends a message to selected contacts and a GPS location. It also features a disguise feature, requiring users to enter a pin number to gain access. This combats any attempted surveillance of meetings, protests or other activities and tracking of activists, journalist and campaigners by authorities.

I Am Alive

In terror ravaged countries like Lebanon (a close neighbour of the ongoing and brutal civil war in Syria) bombings can occur on a daily basis.  As a result of this increased level of fear a 26-year-old Lebanese student, Sandra Hassan, developed this handy tool to allow for smartphone users to quickly let their contacts know (via their phone, Facebook or Twitter) that they are still alive through a simple message; I am still alive! Mobile phone networks are typically overloaded after an attack, preventing loved ones from contacting family and causing unnecessary worry and grief. Some have got in touch from outside Lebanon – from Egypt and Pakistan in particular – asking for the app to be extended to their countries while he is now reported to be working with the nonprofit International Crisis Group to develop a version of her app for use in situations such as natural disasters.


i-am-alive-app

 

Bambuser

This is a live stream app which automatically links your mobile phone to social networks. Its previous use in the Middle East to expose brutality by authorities demonstrates the power it provides citizens in any country to instantly share their activism experiences worldwide and the reaction by authorities. Furthermore, if your phone is broken, everything that was recorded is saved online where it can be accessed later.

Crowdvoice

This app, developed by Mideast Youth, gives anyone who wishes to source content relating to causes they care about, whether this is woman’s rights in Iraq or Self-Defence groups in Mexico, a dedicated webspace to collect and share it. By adopting the the user friendliness of commercial apps like Pinterest or Instagram (uses can simply copy and paste any URL on a relevant Crowdsource page) and combining it with much better security it provides a open and safe space for activists to raise awareness of social/political issues and other users to participate. As a result it provides information from many diverse sources. Users, however, also have the ability to see information in the form of info-graphics or timeline for a more clear picture of an issue, a tool handy for journalists or researchers.

Crowdvoice

 

Off-the-Record Messaging

This allows you to have secure conversations on messaging platforms such as Pidgin and Adium through encryption (where no one else can read your instant messages) and authentication (you are assured the correspondent is who you think it is). It also provides deniability. This means the messages you send do not have digital signatures that are traceable by a third party. Ordinarily, anyone can forge messages after a conversation to make them look like they came from you yet during a conversation using OTR, your correspondent is assured the messages he/she sees are authentic and unmodified.

There is no doubt that extremism, an element which can be found in many religions and ideologies, is an issue that must be confronted. Unfortunately, as the headlines about the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal continue among a public row between ministers we are being shown a lesson on how not to approach an issue which is fundamental to a peaceful and healthy society. Almost Inevitably it will feed a perception by some that Islam is incompatible with British values and it is, perversely, this perception that extremists often use themselves to justify their atrocities, rather than reality. Importantly this is also one case among many where Muslims are overwhelmingly connected with negative media stories. A 2007 Search for Common Ground report, for example, found that, typically, over 90% of coverage concerning Muslims was negative. Giving evidence in 2011 to the Leveson Inquiry, Richard Peppiatt, a journalist who had quit the Daily Star, said he had previously expressed disquiet about an anti-Muslim agenda. Yet, the British public are likely unaware that Islamic Relief were one of the first aid agencies on the scene of the Haiti earthquake disaster. This is likely also something which extremists don’t want anyone to know.

 

Emergency tents provided by Islamic Relief in Haiti.

Emergency tents provided by Islamic Relief in Haiti.

Addressing this situation by reaching out to moderate members of the community so they can tackle extremism within their own community and encouraging them to do so, is therefore critical. If the issue is not addressed by all groups within the British community it is ordinary people, such as Lee Rigby or Muhammed Saleem who ultimately suffer the consequences. In extremism’s place there must be collective solidarity such as that displayed when the Archbishop of Canterbury stood in solidarity with Muslims to condemn the murder of Lee Rigby. It was also seen when the York Mosque defused tensions by inviting protesters from the English Defence League inside for tea.

Posting a former counter-terrorism chief to investigate possible extremism, as the education secretary chose to do, is the antitheses of such actions and can only reinforce extremist views. It potentially encourages people to view Islam through the narrow lens of atrocities committed by a minority, which can only breed suspicion and fear. Many people will say that it is simply the nature of the news media to perpetuate negative stories but when it is linked with such a complex issue, which can have very real and devastating consequences, it is vital to address.

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