Mobile Technology’s Affects on Political Activists and Politicians

Over the last 10 years, mobile media technology has become increasingly important to political activities around the world. Mobile technology can be effective at organizing and coordinating political protests, political activism, and acting as a tool to protect citizens from unjust governments and militaries. Mobile media technologies have also become increasingly important to politicians to utilize during political campaigns, elections, and emergencies.

Mobile technology for the people: Political Activism

Mobile devices have reshaped the way people organize protests and riots in countries such as Pakistan and India. In rural India, where many people have unreliable electricity and limited to no access to Internet, email is not a successful method of communication. Many people do have mobile telephone devices though. Without electricity, mobile phones take precedent over other infrastructural measures. As referenced in The iPhone’s Failure, Madhuresh Kumar stated, “If anything happens anywhere… you create a text message and send it across the country to all the supporters in the villages and cities, and it is easy and quick to organize support.” Kumar works on mobilizing social movements from rural areas to the cities to protest. Mobile text messages sent out in the morning have the ability to be used as a tool to gather people on short notice for demonstrations in the evening. Kumar’s statement shows that mobile technology and text messaging is legitimately effective and useful for organizing community activism.

In addition to effectively gathering people for protest, mobile technology can be used by the people against the government or military to reclaim their rights. “Roberto”, a member of a paper and cards collectors’ self-organized cooperative in Sao Paulo, Brazil reported using the recording devices, and cameras, on mobile cellphones to record meetings with authority. (Leistert) By getting officials’ voices and discussions on tape recordings, the members of the co-op have documented evidence of agreements. They can use the evidence as proof against authority to claim their rights when they are unfairly fined or punished. In this sense, they can use the mobile technology to protect themselves and hold authorities somewhat accountable when the power structure is unequal.

People also use mobile technology to protect themselves in countries where the power structure is unequal by sharing intelligence and information about military movements. For example, the Mexican military tried to control the streets in a remote area of Mexico. The people used their mobile phones to record pictures and video of the military transports. By sending the pictures to other regions, cities, and the internet, the people could warn other areas so that the military would not be able to catch anyone else off guard. Posting images, video, and text about the incidents onto the internet from mobiles devices allows for increased visibility and an audience of billions to potentially learn about what is happening and mobilize quickly for a cause. (Rheingold) A number of political incidents and protests have gone viral on social media over the last few months from observations of police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri to global outcry over the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

Charlie Hebdo “Je Suis Charlie” cover

Leistert cautions though against praising the liberating powers of mobile technology. He states that it is increasingly difficult to keep mobile media available and sustainable for political protesters. Militant governments and regimes have learned of the empowering abilities of mobile technology and try to limit them. The public surveillance that traditionally has been targeted to repress people, and instill fear and paranoia in citizens, is also present with mobile technology. The activists regularly acknowledge with frustration that their phones have the ability to be monitored or turned off by the government or telephone companies. Even though it is not a perfect tool, the activists still use mobile technology because it is the best tool they have currently. The development of mobile technology for political activism has potential benefits of improving society that outweigh the potential for negative effects.

Mobile technology for the politicians: Political Campaigns and Elections

Mobile technologies have altered political campaigns and elections too. Swedish political party secretaries, communications officers, and election managers all thought social media would play an important role, but not a decisive one, in the 2010 elections. According to Koivunen, many Swedish political parties released mobile apps in efforts to engage people politically. The different parties took a variety of media strategies in developing their apps. The Christian Democrat party framed their candidate as a comedian of sorts. The app got the candidate, Goran Hagglund, a lot of positive publicity and feedback. This app demonstrated the increasing personalization of politics and how political campaigning is becoming more entertainment-based. Other party’s apps took a more traditional, informative approach to try to connect with the people. Although to Koivenun in “Party Apps and other Citizenship Calls”, the Swedish public overall deemed social media a flop and a non-factor in voting in the 2010 elections. However, the use of mobile technology in the Swedish 2010 election was a precursor of mobile technology and social media in election campaigns in the United States in 2012.

For the 2010 election, SVT, a Swedish television station, worked to combine politics with humor and satire in efforts to cater towards politically-engaged users. (Koivunen) Politicians are now doing this in the United States. Politicians, and traditional media, increasingly are using social media to try to engage voters and connect with them on a more personal level. For example, after the “Texts from Hillary” meme and tumblr came out, Hillary Clinton met with the creators of the tumblr and then proceeded to use the original picture of her on the BlackBerry as her Twitter avatar for over a year. (She changed it last month, March 2015.)

Texts From Hillary

Years ago, politicians would have paid zero to minimal attention to jokes that people made about them online. Now, political memes proliferate social media apps every time a candidate opens their mouth. The memes are then talked about on traditional media formats such as television or the radio. This demonstrates the interdependence between the media and our political system that Koivenun briefly mentions. It also shows how “new media” may play an increasingly important role moving forward into future elections.

Koivenun presents smartphones as necessary devices between media and politics. Rheingold supports this sentiment in “Mobile Media and Collective Political Action” when he discusses politician’s past use of mobile technology. According to Rheingold, after 9/11, all members of Congress were equipped with BlackBerries so they could communicate efficiently with each other in an emergency situation if phone lines were down or jammed. Furthermore, the Republican Party’s chief strategist, Karl Rove, coordinated the 2002 Republican Congress victory from his BlackBerry. Supposedly, he even monitored the election and messaged off of his BlackBerry while in meetings with President Bush. It is interesting to note that politicians use their mobile devices for persuading, organizing, and coordinating in such a similar manner as the people using mobile technology to protest in India.

While there are some drawbacks to using mobile technology for political activism, overall, mobile technology has had a positive impact on the work of political activists and politicians alike. Both groups of people use mobile technology as a tool to connect with others and organize political activities, whether it be through text messages, BlackBerry messages, or social media apps. The readings highlight how politics and media, traditional media and new media such as mobile devices, depend on each other. In the future, mobile technology will continue to affect how people protest, or protect themselves, in developing countries and how politicians campaign and engage with each other and citizens. These actions will only become increasingly visible on various media platforms as the world becomes more connected.

References:

Horowitz, A. (2015, January 12). Charlie Hebdo Cover Features Muhammad Holding ‘Je Suis Charlie’ Sign. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/12/charlie-hebdo-cover-je-suis-charlie_n_6458876.html

Koivenun, A. (2012). Party Apps and Other Citizenship Calls. In Moving Data: The iPhone and the future of media. New York: Columbia University Press.

Leistert, O. (2012). The iPhone’s Failure: Protests and Resistance. In Moving Data: The iPhone and the future of media. New York: Columbia University Press.

Rheingold, H. (2008). Mobile Media and Collective Political Action. In Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Texts From Hillary. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://textsfromhillary.tumblr.com/

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