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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.