Global Wire started out eight years ago as just a simple blog that discussed the emergence of digital activism. Since then we have seen new technologies revolutionize how activists interact with each other and overcome social injustices.
But what happens when technology is used to support social injustice?
We have known for a long time that subversive groups like al Qaeda and various far right wing groups worldwide are organizing through encrypted chat rooms and other social networks, and that online hate speech is growing at an alarming rate.
However, a new report – Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage and Political Violence in Africa – shows the detrimental effect of mobile phones on the continent. Data on organized violence was collected from 1989 to 2010, and from data on mobile phone coverage from the GSM Association. The authors found that between 2007 and 2009 regions with 2G network mobile coverage were 50 percent more likely to have experienced incidents of armed conflict than those without that coverage.
The report also takes into consideration various economic and social dynamics. In situations where “confounding variables” such as poverty, inequality, ethnic fractionalization or ethnic exclusion are present, there are higher levels of violence that is associated with mobile phones. Regions that already have “structural conditions that favor violence” have also seen even more violent attacks.
Also, the authors believe that better mobile phone coverage is helping aggressors overcome what they call their “collective action problems” – the problem of recruiting new people to commit violent acts due to the high risk to their personal safety. However, now with better communication tools available, it is a lot easier to recruit reluctant followers. “Cell phones lead to a boost in the capacity of rebels to communicate and monitor in-group behavior, thus increasing in-group cooperation. Furthermore, cell phones allow for coordination of insurgent activity across geographically distant locations.”
The report shows that areas with a clear overlap in mobile coverage and violent events are in Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“We do not believe that the spread of cell phone technology has an overall negative effect on the African continent,” the authors said. “The increase in violence induced by better communication might represent a short-term technological shock, while the positive effects of better communication networks on growth and political behavior may mitigate root causes of conflict in the long run.”