Twitter and Iraq: A Counterinsurgency to Carr’s Cynicism

In an article entitled “How Twitter is going to save Iraq. I mean Ir@. Not.”, Paul Carr of the Guardian shares his cynical view regarding social media’s ability to improve the situation in Iraq. His essay was sparked by the fact that several tech execs from Google, YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, MeetUp and more are in Iraq right now as part of a delegation to explore potential new media solutions. Carr lays out a satirical sequence of events that could emerge in an “iRaq 2.0.” Below are a few examples (that, I must admit, had me laughing at times):

December 2009: Iraq holds its first truly democratic online elections with voters invited to Digg up or down a list of 10 candidates representing politicians from across the country’s political spectrum. March 2010: Iraq hosts its first Tweetup, in a bar just outside the Green Zone. The mood is soured when the attendees are twurdered by a twuicide bomber.

May 2010: A new breed of web 2.0 kidnappers begins to emerge, threatening to disrupt the traditional kidnapping industry. Rather than following a ransom model, the new kidnappers release hostages for free, asking only for their name and email address in return. Despite having no revenue strategy whatsoever, market leader Kidnappr quickly signs up over 4 million hostages after über-bloggers Robert Scoble and iJustine appear in promotional videos, pleading for their lives.

October 2010: AOL buys Kidnappr for $850m.

May 2011: Iraq publishes its crowdsourced constitution. Controversial additions soon follow, including the first amendment which is simply the word “first!” and a freedom of speech amendment which, curiously, is closed to commenters.

October 2011: Crowdsourced constitution is deleted after editors decide that it doesn’t meet the international community’s notability guidelines. Pages dedicated to fictional characters from obscure graphic novels remain.

Satire aside, Carr’s comments beg the question: can the deployment of social media/Web 2.0 solutions produce a positive impact in Iraq?

I think the answer is in the affirmative and I’d like to marshall the “goverati” in creating a counter-argument. For starters, here are three potential solutions:

1. Check out the Top Fifteen Projects that were selected as part of the 2008 USAID Development 2.0 Challenge that elicited feedback on potential mobile solutions for global development. Certainly, there are possibilities for application in Iraq, like QuestionBox (democratizing information and new for the illiterate, poor and unconnected), RESDIDA (mobile content distribution platform to scale organizations’ reach to the poor) and Ushahidi (mobile crisis reporting).

2. Can something like Apps for Democracy work in a place like Iraq? Carr mocks a crowd-sourced Constitution, but why can’t the citizens of Iraq participate in something akin to a We the People Wiki or create a “Baghdad Pedestrian” built upon the D.C. Pedestrian app. They can build it. We can help.

3. Something as simple as a YouTube channel with videos about Iraq that educates U.S. citizens about a nation where we have channeled so many resources could go a long way toward generating support for a more diplomatic approach to relations as we draw down troops over the next several months. The Multi-National Force-Iraq has just such a presence on YouTube with the express purpose of giving “viewers around the world a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective of Operation Iraqi Freedom from those who are most closely involved.”

As a caveat, I want to grant the fact that Internet usage in Iraq is extremely low with most people connecting at Internet cafes. Nonetheless, now is the time to be brainstorming possibilities – the point of providing access to Iraq for some of the smartest tech gurus in America.

It’s time to muster the mensch – the “do-gooder” Goverati – to collaboratively counter Carr’s pessimism about the potential for new media to re-build Iraq.

Originally published at the GenerationShift blog.

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Anne Laurent

I’ll bet many more Iraqis have cell phones though and they can get many apps through them. I’ve blogged before about how cell phones are being used in Africa to leapfrog the need for PCs and laptops. Many of those apps could help in Iraq straight out of the box. Cheers, Anne L. (theagilemind.blogspot.com)

Andrew Krzmarzick

Anne – that’s EXACTLY right and I spoke with a doctoral who is going back to her native Uganda to conduct research on the use of mobile technology to improve citizen involvement. I think I used the same term – leapfrogged – to describe what’s happening there. Miss you blogging more regularly!