Monthly Archives: January 2011

Facebook https is now live for Sudan

A very big thank you to the team at Facebook for allowing users in the Sudan to access Facebook securely. Instead of using the regular http:// access to the site, using https:// means that your connection is securely encrypted. This prevents malicious users from spying on your account and seeing your password, for example. This is why all online banking websites use https, as does Google with gmail. Tunisia in many ways set the precedent. Read this excellent account on the inside story of how Facebook responded to Tunisian hacks.

As we have seen in many situations, Facebook is often used by activists to schedule and coordinate mass action. This is equally true of the Sudan, with this Jan30 Facebook group, which now has over 17,000 members. However, in my recent Skype conversations with a number of Sudanese activists, I’ve realized that many of them didn’t know that the Tunisian government (for example) had been able to hack into Facebook accounts. While using https is not a complete panacea, it definitely is a step in the right direction re communicating securely in repressive environments. I’ve also encouraged colleagues to switch to using Hushmail for email communication.

So for colleagues in the Sudan, to set up https:// access, go to “My Account” then “Settings” and then “Account Security.” Here’s the equivalent in the Arabic interface:

You should click on “Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) whenever possible” and also on “Send me an email” that way you get sent an automated email when a new computer or mobile phone logs into your account. If you have any questions, feel free to add them in the comments section of this blog.

Here are some other steps you can take to use Facebook more securely:

1. Do not share sensitive info on FB
2. User passphrases instead of passwords
3. Change you name, or at least do not provide your full name on FB*
4. Do not use a picture of yourself for your FB profile picture
5. Logout of FB when not using the site

* Use this with caution as it violates FB’s terms of service and if someone is targeting you, they can report you to FB. Also do not give FB your identification if asked (@JillianYork).

Again, using https and following these five steps is no guarantee that your account won’t be hacked, but it maximizes your chances of using Facebook more safely. If you have any security tips to share, please add them in the comments section of this blog post.

A big thank you once again to Facebook. I emailed them (via another colleague) with my concerns regarding Sudanese activists and they responded in a just a matter of hours. Facebook is also in the process of rolling this https option out for all their users worldwide.

Civil Resistance: Early Lessons Learned from Sudan’s #Jan30

Sudanese activists in Khartoum have shared early reflections on how they can improve their efforts. These lessons are applicable to others engaged in civil resistance and are therefore shared below.

Source 1:

There was insufficient clear communication leading up to the first protest, which led to the first mistake since NCP members were able to fake a delay of the event which mean that we lost a considerable number of our protesters.

The timing of the protest was also off.  You can not except an average Sudanese citizen to protest on the 30th of January after he just got his salary. The satisfaction of that will cover up the feeling of injustices and humiliation. So if a date is set up, it should be the 15th, 16th or 17th (the depression days in the Sudanese dictionary). Also, we can not except protesters to participate in something like this at 11:00am or 11:30am when every body is either in the middle of their job or on the way to it.

And we forget the main factor: the youth. Most of them are students that constrained with lecture attendance sheets: the Sudanese universities are very extreme in that matter since 2005 and students are failed out of class by teachers for skipping more than 25% of lectures, which means they would need to repeat the course or the whole year). So the time should change to 2:00pm or 2:30pm.

In the matter of using Facebook as our only connection yes we can recruit youth and talk to them about the problem that they are facing but in order to transfer from Facebook to the Sudanese reality you need a prepared arena, i.e., at least 50% of the city residents need to know what you will do before you do it. So I suggest more communication with the public before a month at least from the event and this needs creativity and persuasiveness.

Source 2:

… I met two friends and went up the road towards the presidential place at the end of the street. There was massive policemen presence and young people wandering around. I knew that they were confused about where the demonstration would begin. People did not know who were with them and who were against them. When we got closer to cross of Baladiya street with Qasar, people were running away, we kept moving and we saw people in plain clothes with policemen beating four persons, they were about 20 policemen and those  people in plain clothes, armed with stick and pipe, beating very hard those four persons, on chest, head and arms. This scene discouraged people to demonstrate, and of course that was the message security forces were trying to send.

Source 3:

We were very much predictable to the NCP members, we shouldn’t underestimate them in that matter we are dealing with people who have experience in destroying events like this cause the Sudanese didn’t change their ways in that matter since 1985 when they where the one’s who applied them with the rest of the parties… I have many thoughts about how we could work this event out. We also need someone from Egypt to tell us more about organizing and monitoring then we can readjust it to fit Sudan case.

There are some good resources (in Arabic) for activists in the Sudan and the Arab World (please contact me if you’d like copies):

  • Nonviolent Struggle – 50 Crucial Points.
  • Twitter for Activism.

There is also a Crowdmap on the protests in Khartoum which activists are contributing to.

Crisis Mapping Sudan: Protest Map of Khartoum

Unlike the many maps of the #Jan25 protests in neighboring Egypt there is but this one map for the #Jan30 protests taking place in the Sudan and Khartoum in particular. The map was requested by Sudanese colleagues in Khartoum who in their own words wanted a public map for the world to see what is happening in their own country.

Some 70 individual reports have been mapped thus far. These capture a range of incidents including the following:

  • Police use gas bombs against medical students [View Report]
  • Peaceful gatherings and demonstrations [View1 View2]
  • Sudanese security harassing foreign journalists [View1 View2]
  • Picture of police beating protesters on Palace Street [View]
  • Videos of protest in Khartoum [View]

While all eyes of the media are on Egypt, few are sharing the developments in the Sudan. This makes the Sudan map even more important. As Philip Howard has found in his comprehensive new study on “The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam,” the presence of a comparatively active online civil society appears to be one of the key ingredients for democratic transition. Compared to the online civil society in Egypt, the one in the Sudan is far smaller. But activists in Khartoum have reached out to digital activists outside the country for support. And this joint effort has  resulted in more than just a map.

Sudanese contacts have been sharing relevant information via email  and Skype throughout the day, some of which is mapped, and some which is included in the News section of the map. In addition, digital activists have provided training on Twitter and have set up a Flickr account for the Sudanese activists (at their request). See this DigiActive guide on how to use Twitter for activism, also available in Arabic (PDF).

The group has also been trying hard to set up a local FrontlineSMS number for activists to text their reports directly to the map. The first phone they tried didn’t work, so they’re looking to use a GSM modem in the coming days. (Update: an international number has been set up). Once a number is set up, the activists want to share it widely, including the 16,000+ members of the Jan30 Facebook group. Local activists hope this will help them overcome some of the coordination challenges that cropped up today when there was confusion over where and when the demonstrations were meant to take place. This resulted in smaller dispersed protests instead of mass action. You can read more on first hand accounts of this in the News section which includes an email written by Sudanese activist about what they saw today.

Despite the constraints in organization, activists still took to the streets but did face higher risks by being in smaller more dispersed groups. I’m hoping they’ll be able to regroup and plan their future protests in such a way that there is less confusion. The activists do have a full copy of the mass action strategy guide used by Egyptian protesters this week. This may serve them well if they can circulate it widely in the country.

Crisis Mapping Egypt: Collection of Protest Maps (Updated)

The CrisisMappers Twitter feed has shared a number of maps depicting the ongoing protests in Egypt. Here is a collection of them. Do let me know if we’re missing any. To learn more about crisis mapping, read this blog post: What is Crisis Mapping? and join For a protest map of the demonstrations in Khartoum, Sudan, see this link.

Update: The Cairo-based Development and Institutionalization Support Center (DISC) has launched the Ushahidi map below. DISC has previously used the platform to monitor the country’s Parliamentary Elections last November and December  (see this post for more info).

Update: These Twitter maps Hypercities provide another way to visualize the event unfolding across the country.

Update: Storyful has this Google Map of the protests in downtown Cairo:

Update: OpenEgypt, an independent group of volunteers have set up the Open Egypt Crowdmap below:

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has put up this Jan 25th CrowdMap:

The company ESRI has produced the following Web Map of Egypt:

The New York Times has also put this protest map together:

Finally, the LA Times has this map up on their website:

How I’m following the developments in Egypt (Updated)

How to follow a 21st century revolution. What sources am I missing?


Live Video

Live Stream


What is Crisis Mapping? An Update on the Field and Looking Ahead

I last updated my piece on A Brief History of Crisis Mapping some two years ago, well before the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping was held (ICCM 2009). So a brief update on the past 24 months may be in order, especially for a field that continues to grow so rapidly. When I Googled the term “crisis mapping” in September 2009, I got 8,680 hits. Today, one gets over 200,000. If you’re curious about the origins of the field and what happened before 2009, my original blog post still serves as a useful intro. I also recommend this recent video on Changing the World One Map at a Time and this earlier blog post on Proposing the Field of Crisis Mapping (also from 2009).

Clearly a full update on the past 24 months would constitute at least an MA thesis (if you’re a grad student and looking for a topic, email me!). So what is Crisis Mapping? “Dots on a map” is often the tongue-in-cheek reply. Crisis Mapping is of course a lot more than that. To place Crisis Mapping into context, it helps to think of the field as a subset of the “Live Mapping” space. I also often use the following analogy, crisis mapping platforms are to crises zones what MRI’s are to emergency rooms. Static, paper-based maps would be the equivalent of X-rays in this analogy. Crisis Mapping is thus live mapping focused on crises, and the term crisis here is deliberately broad, from slow-burn crises to sudden-onset disasters. Crisis Mapping is certainly not restricted to political crises but may include social and environmental crises, for example.

Crisis Mapping can be described as combining the following 3 components: information collection, visualization and analysis. Of course, all these elements are within the context of a dynamic, interactive map. So I typically use the following taxonomy:

  1. Crisis Map Sourcing
  2. Crisis Map Visualization
  3. Crisis Map Analysis

On Crisis Map Sourcing, there are multiple methodologies and technologies that one can use for information collection. These range from the traditional paper-based survey approaches and Walking-Papers to crowdsourcing reports via SMS and automatically parsing social media data on the web. Visualization is about rendering the information collected on a dynamic, interactive map in such a way that the rendering provides maximum insight on the data collected and any potential visual patterns. This is of course nothing new to the field of cartography and geographic information systems. What is perhaps new is that the technologies used for the visualization are free or open source or both, and that they don’t require much in the way of prior training. Some have referred to this as neogeography.

Crisis Map Analysis is also nothing new and simply entails the application of statistical techniques to spatial data for pattern or “signature” detection. What is perhaps novel is that the analysis is now happening more and more on the fly, i.e., in real-time. The point of doing this kind of analysis is to provide in-the-moment decision-support to users of a given Crisis Mapping platform. Thus the interface of said platforms should allow users to easily query the map and test out different scenarios to identify the best course of action given a changing or evolving environment. Ideally, a Crisis Mapping platform should also allow you to assess the impact of your actions.

So these are the terms and concepts that one can use to talk about the field of Crisis Mapping. But what exactly has changed over the two years?

I’d say the increasing use of free and open source crisis mapping software, for one. There has also been a lot more interest in the use of social media and up-to-date satellite imagery as a source of information. The same goes with using crowdsourcing to collect crisis information. The rise of online volunteers engaged in crisis mapping is another new and important development which holds much potential. This is particularly true as formal humanitarian organizations are now taking important steps to interface with these volunteer communities.

Perhaps what I am most excited about is the recent use of Crisis Mapping not just to identify problems but also existing solutions; the idea is to combine crowdsourcing with crowdfeeding to create a crowdsourcing “market place” that matches needs with resources. The basic idea is to help other help themselves. Professional disaster responders may not always be there to help but the crowd is always there. To learn more about this approach, please see this blog post.

One interesting impact of Crisis Mapping that hadn’t occurred to me two years ago is the social connectivity aspect. What do I mean by that? Simply this: the value of Crisis Mapping may at times have less to do with the actual map and more with the conversations and new collaborative networks catalyzed by launching a Crisis Mapping project. Indeed, this in part explains why the Standby Volunteer Task Force exists in the first place. So Collaborative Crisis Mapping can generate both weak and strong-ties.

Where do I see the field going over the next 24 months? I think we’ll see more focus on solutions to process large volumes of geo-data in real time, especially of the social media and SMS type. By process I  mean automated data-mining, entity-extraction, geo-location, categorization and language translation combined with human-driven curation tools. The application of “Mechanical Turk” services may also become more common place.

What else? Existing Crisis Mapping platforms are highly limited because the majority are only available in the English language. So I expect this to change in the near future if platforms are really to scale. The role of mobile technologies will remain center stage, of course, with more multimedia content appearing on crisis maps along with live video feeds. As a result, I also expect (and hope) to see more examples of Maptivism, i.e., tactical live mapping.

In addition, I’d like to see more on-the-fly mashups of live data. Take the flood mapping in Queensland, Australia, for example. I hope to see future live maps like this one include live traffic and weather updates (and forecasts) as dynamics layers. Colleagues Anahi Ayala and Helena Puig have also been playing around with the idea of combining geo-referenced crowdsourced SMS reports with cell phone coverage maps to identify potential areas of “over-” and “under-reporting.” One could then develop simple algorithms to potentially identify unusual gaps in SMS reporting.

Finally, I’d like to see more “check-in” (and check-out) features integrated into Crisis Mapping platforms, i.e., simple one-click updates on one’s location and activity has many use-cases in crisis response, particularly if this can be combined with alternative uses of geo-caching, e.g., pre-formulated messages that are automatically activated upon checking-in at given locations and points in time. So instead of  the traditional message “In case of an emergency, break glass” you’d have “In case of emergency, check-in for info on how to survive.”

What are your thoughts? Where do you see the field of Crisis Mapping going over the next 12-24 months?

ICTs, Democracy, Activism and Dictatorship: Comprehensive Literature Review

Building on my previous post with respect to Howard Philip’s “Origin of Dictatorship and Democracy,” I’ve completed a draft of my dissertation chapter which comprises a comprehensive literature on the impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on Democracy, Activism and Dictatorship. This is a 54-page document (17,000+ words)  which I believe represents the most up-to-date and in-depth review of the literature currently available. The chapter reviews both the quantitative and qualitative literature in this space.

You can download the chapter here (PDF).

I’m actively looking for feedback to make the chapter even stronger and more useful to scholars and practitioners interested in this space. So please do add any recommendations you may have in the comments section below. Thank you very much!