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Recent upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia, both involving struggles for democratic governance and social reform, have been called “internet revolutions”, “Twitter revolutions” or “Wikileaks revolutions.” Such depictions tickle the mind of techies, geeks, info-tech reporters as well as twitter and facebook fanatics and players in the ICT industry.

But activists in those places will be the first to deny that theirs was a Twitter revolution. It takes blood, sweat and tears, not just a few clicks of the mouse, for a revolution to succeed.

Such simplifications of the role of mobile communications technology remind me of our own EDSA 2, which was known as the Text Revolution due to the role of mobile phones and SMS in mobilizing people and keeping them informed of the political developments.

Today the power of communication and information is literally in our hands, in a tiny contraption called the mobile phone. It still amazes me what one can do with such a tiny device. You can call or text anyone anywhere anytime. You can surf the net. You can book a flight, hire a masseuse, check out the next movie showing. You can see what’s happening in Egypt, or watch a congressional investigation in real time.

This is the era of Web 2.0. With such powerful instruments at our disposal – the mobile phone, the PC, the iPad, free/open source software, Web 2.0 – and the capability to be on-line, logged in to each other 24/7, there’s no reason why we can’t use ICT in pushing for reforms and genuine social change.

Even Facebook has built in applications for advocacies and campaigns. The two biggest TV networks – ABS-CBN and GMA – have incorporated texts, tweets and FB posts in their newscasts. Such tools facilitate changes by amplifying the force of public opinion.

There is a plethora of applications and web sites that facilitate people’s participation and collaboration in various advocacies. Blogs are especially useful for this, as are interactive sites that make people involved in giving information, monitoring or initiating projects. This is where the value of free/open source software comes in, as it democratizes software use and development. So now we have FOSS for disaster management, human rights monitoring, education, office productivity, SMEs, LGUs, and even automated elections.

The internet and mobile networks are as effective tools for education and awareness raising as they are for organizing and mobilizing. It is most crucial to harness the potential of the internet and mobile phones for networking and collaboration towards real, concrete action. We should match our online presence with offline actions.

In other words, let us not limit ourselves to being clicktivists in the virtual world but activists in the real world.

Of course we will have to address the basic problems of lack of access, language and education that makes ICT the domain of highly educated individuals. Unless ICT becomes user friendly in all aspects, it will be difficult to expect ICT-fueled movements.

We all know that revolutions take more than tweeting and posting updates on your Facebook account. Like EDSA 1 and 2, the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were the result of social movements spanning several years. Much of the work was done offline, in the nitty gritty of meetings, forums, in organizing various campaigns and mobilizing warm bodies from the classrooms, workplaces, churches and communities to the streets and to every arena of engagement.

What is clear is that ICT serves as tools, very effective tools, for the goal of mobilizing hundreds of thousands to unite and overthrow their oppressive and corrupt regimes. After all, you don’t oust a tyrant with a click of the mouse. For that you need warm bodies to attend your marches and man your picketlines.

What is true of uprisings and revolutions is surely true of our efforts at good governance and social reform. You can’t end the cycle of corruption, much as you can’t protect labor rights or improve disaster response, by simply clicking away at your computer. That’s part of the work, for sure, but somewhere along the way, we will have to stand up, organize, mobilize those warm bodies, fight for our people’s rights and squarely face our demons and oppressors, both virtual and real.#

3 thoughts on “ICT and social reform

  1. Pingback: Philippines: Internet and social reform · Global Voices

  2. Pingback: After the Dinner Party | After the Dinner Party

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