Mobile Activism in Pakistan

Posted on July 16, 2007
Filed Under >Babar Bhatti, Science and Technology, Society
Total Views: 29151

Guest post by Babar Bhatti

I recently read a news item that a Chinese city has suspended plans to build a chemical plant after a wave of cell phone text and online messages generated strong opposition to the project. This is an interesting use of technology in a country where free speech is not always allowed and protests are difficult to organize. The fact that a seemingly trivial thing such as SMS can mobilize a whole city is amazing.

Some claim that the most important activist technology of the last five years is the mobile phone and it is a phenomenon also taking roots in Pakistan.

SMS is already wildly popular in Pakistan, one reason being its relatively low cost compared with a phone call cost. When political news strikes on issues like the Lal Masjid affair or the Chief Justice controversy, many people first hear about it through SMS messages. Jokes and one-liners about such events are also immensely popular. But has anyone in Pakistan created a movement based on text messaging?

I do see some signs of technology- driven activity there. The Nirala Sweet incident is one example, this was spread in Pakistan mainly through SMS. Recent Mobile Virus Scare in Pakistan also falls in this category where calls and SMS contributed to the panic. However there is not much there in the form of focused campaigns.

The use of online videos from Pakistan is definitely increasing in popularity, though sometime it is for propaganda purpose. Some of it may be cell phone videos. I am sure it is only a matter of time before we see a lot of political activity on the mobile phones in Pakistan.

Related Resources: Here’s a recent article about mobile activism and a website for civic engagement using mobiles.

Here’s a bit more about the China case. According to Xinhua, nearly one million text messages were sent protesting the plant’s construction, eventually forcing the government to capitulate. Despite intense government controls, China’s Internet and cell phone texting remain a freewheeling space. The Xiamen texting highlights the use of a new medium to spread a message in China. Already, Chinese mobile phones are used to send text ads. The city’s reversal is one of the most visible cases in China whereby texting — which is harder to block than Internet messages — was effectively used to quash a government initiative.

PHOTO CREDITS: Clicking on the photos will take you to their parent webbsite.

Babar Bhatti is a Telecom professional based in Dallas, Texas. See more at Babar’s blog: State of Telecom Industry in Pakistan.

9 responses to “Mobile Activism in Pakistan”

  1. NOMAN says:

    We saw even more activisim during the Emergency

  2. Shehzad A says:

    Teeth, thanks for introducing me to this interesting looking service, i managed to register, but havent yet subscribed, although im in IT professional, for some odd reason im always pessimistic when it comes to new technology, maybe im too old :)

  3. Babar says:

    Indeed sms can be abused in many ways and spam remains a problem. However if there’s a cause to which people can relate and there is a well-managed sms campaign then sms can become a powerful tool. The control should remain with the user.

  4. @A Thought – I agree – and be grateful that there are not many crackberry (Blackberry) users as that is a far more lethal menace all together.

    There is absolutely no cell phone courtesy AT ALL, educated and uneducated have the itch to answer that all important crank call, talk loudly, ask who it is, and say sorry wrong number, the entire conversation loud enough to wake up the living dead. It Burns me to death.

    If god forbid you ask them to turn it off, its a crime of the century, and heck even after 10 requests they will still never have the courtesy to put it on silent

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