[Cross-posted from the Ushahidi blog]
Invisible Children’s #Kony2012 campaign has set off a massive firestorm of criticism with the debate likely to continue raging for many more weeks and months. In the meantime, our colleagues at Al-Jazeera have repurposed our previous #SomaliaSpeaks project to amplify Ugandan voices responding to the Kony campaign: #UgandaSpeaks.
Other than GlobalVoices, this Al-Jazeera initiative is one of the very few seeking to amplify local reactions to the Kony campaign. Over 70 local voices have been shared and mapped on Al-Jazeera’s Ushahidi platform in the first few hours since the launch. The majority of reactions submitted thus far are critical of the campaign but a few are positive.
One person from Kampala asks, “How come the world now knows more about #Kony2012 than about the Nodding Syndrome in Northern Uganda?” Another person in Gulu complains that “there is nothing new they are showing us. Its like a campaign against our country. […] Did they put on consideration how much its costing our country’s image? It shows as if Uganda is finished.” In nearby Lira, one person shares their story about growing up in Northern Uganda and attending “St. Mary’s College Aboke, a school from which Joseph Kony’s rebels abducted 139 girls in ordinary level […]. For the 4 years that I spent in that school (1999-2002), together with other students, I remember praying the Rosary at the School Grotto on daily basis and in the process, reading out the names of the 30 girls who had remained in captivity after Sr. Rachelle an Italian Nun together with a Ugandan teacher John Bosco rescued only 109 of them.”
The Ushahidi platform was first launched in neighboring Kenya to give ordinary Kenyans a voice during the post election-violence in 2007/2008. Indeed, “ushahidi” means witness or testimony in Swahili. So I am pleased to see this free and open source platform from Africa being used to amplify voices next door in Uganda, voices that are not represented in the #Kony2012 campaign.
Some Ugandan activists are asking why they should respond to “some American video release about something that happened 20 years ago by someone who is not in my country?” Indeed, why should anyone? If the #Kony2012 campaign and underlying message doesn’t bother Ugandans and doesn’t paint the country in a bad light, then there’s no need to respond. If the campaign doesn’t divert attention from current issues that are more pressing to Ugandans and does not adversely effect tourism, then again, why should anyone respond? This is, after all a personal choice, no one is forced to have their voices heard.
At SXSW yesterday, Ugandan activist Teddy Ruge weighed in on the #Kony2012 campaign with the following:
“We [Ugandans] have such a hard time being given the microphone to talk about our issues that sometimes we have to follow on the coat-tails of Western projects like this one and say that we also have a voice in this matter.”
I believe one way to have those local voices heard is to have them echoed using innovative software “Made in Africa” like Ushahidi and then amplified by a non-Western but international news company like Al-Jazeera. Looking at my Twitter stream this morning, it appears that I’m not the only one. The microphone is yours. Over to you.
MAQSA: Social Analytics of User Responses to News
Designed by QCRI in partnership with MIT and Al-Jazeera, MAQSA provides an interactive topic-centric dashboard that summarizes news articles and user responses (comments, tweets, etc.) to these news items. The platform thus helps editors and publishers in newsrooms like Al-Jazeera’s better “understand user engagement and audience sentiment evolution on various topics of interest.” In addition, MAQSA “helps news consumers explore public reaction on articles relevant to a topic and refine their exploration via related entities, topics, articles and tweets.” The pilot platform currently uses Al-Jazeera data such as Op-Eds from Al-Jazeera English.
Given a topic such as “The Arab Spring,” or “Oil Spill”, the platform combines time, geography and topic to “generate a detailed activity dashboard around relevant articles. The dashboard contains an annotated comment timeline and a social graph of comments. It utilizes commenters’ locations to build maps of comment sentiment and topics by region of the world. Finally, to facilitate exploration, MAQSA provides listings of related entities, articles, and tweets. It algorithmically processes large collections of articles and tweets, and enables the dynamic specification of topics and dates for exploration.”
While others have tried to develop similar dashboards in the past, these have “not taken a topic-centric approach to viewing a collection of news articles with a focus on their user comments in the way we propose.” The team at QCRI has since added a number of exciting new features for Al-Jazeera to try out as widgets on their site. I’ll be sure to blog about these and other updates when they are officially launched. Note that other media companies (e.g., UK Guardian) will also be able to use this platform and widgets once they become public.
As always with such new initiatives, my very first thought and question is: how might we apply them in a humanitarian context? For example, perhaps MAQSA could be repurposed to do social analytics of responses from local stakeholders with respect to humanitarian news articles produced by IRIN, an award-winning humanitarian news and analysis service covering the parts of the world often under-reported, misunderstood or ignored. Perhaps an SMS component could also be added to a MAQSA-IRIN platform to facilitate this. Or perhaps there’s an application for the work that Internews carries out with local journalists and consumers of information around the world. What do you think?
Posted in Humanitarian Technologies, Social Computing, Social Media
Tagged Al-Jazeera, analysis, Comments, MAQSA, MIT, news, QCRI, Tweets, Users