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Darfur and the Internet

Scott [PersonRank 0]

Thursday, November 23, 2006
13 years ago6,976 views

The people of Darfur have suffered for years. The situation is only getting more dire. See news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061123/a ... . We who have food, shelter, and computers don't think about this ongoing tragedy nearly enough. (If you do, you're one of the rare ones.)

Is there anything that we can do – with our knowledge of means and methods of communication – to get world leaders to act, finally, to prevent the death and suffering of millions of people?

Any and all reasonable suggestions are welcome. A YouTube video, a week of blogging for the people of Darfur, an innovative protest to attract world media attention, anything at all ... as long as it's something ... and as long as something happens as a result.

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

Not one person finds this topic interesting? Perhaps I should have posted it on a day other than Thanksgiving .... But I do hope that we pay attention to such things every day – especially on a day when many of us are giving thanks for what we have.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

I did read through the article Scott and you did pose a good question – how can we prevent these things with the help of the internet?

/pd [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Join Globalvoices and participant

/pd [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

oh and also keep track of the annual WEF events.. goto the blogs, make your voice heard..comment and rant.. thats the most that we with computers can do..

Seth Finkelstein [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

"Is there anything that we can do – with our knowledge of means and methods of communication – to get world leaders to act, finally, to prevent the death and suffering of millions of people?"

Sadly, at the risk of being too depressing, I don't think so.

The Internet isn't magic. Every interest-group has it. So whatever the reason for the death and suffering, to a first approximation, those who are in favor of it (and there ARE such people, don't delude yourself) can use the Internet just as much as those against it. To a second approximation, you can sometimes use lags and shifts to promote one interest-grouip over the other. But it's by no means easy.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Scott – I find this topic compelling and disturbing. But I don't think there's a political solution available – armed peacekeepers ain't gonna help in my opinion.

All the world can offer is humanitarian aid, to ease the suffering, and observers ("silent witnesses", I think the Quakers would say) so that anyone preparing to commit any kind of atrocity knows that people will be watching.

In time, as the plight of the people improves, the tensions will ease.

Any more active intervention risks exposing creating or exposing power vacuums which get filled by extremists, to the long term detriment of everyone there.

In that sense, I'm not sure that blogging or videos can help. I don't want "world leaders to act", because I fear they will do more harm than good. Grassroots support of individuals by individuals is the only way forward.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

While there may or may not be a "balance of lobbys", as Seth suggests, some lobbies grow stronger with secrecy while others grow stronger with publicizing information. Chinese censorship might be such an example – even though the pro-censorship people do voice their opinion from time to time, they cannot be as aggressive about a public discussion as are those who are opposing the censorship, simply because such things work best in the dark. On the other hand, there are info bits which, even when publicized, due not seem to cause direct change (e.g. "there were no weapons of mass destruction, ergo the US president might have attacked a country on the wrong assumptions" does not, after publication, stop the US president from being president, even though the issue has been hashed and rehashed on the internet, in documentaries, mainstream media, etc.).

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

My attitude is that just because something hasn't been done doesn't mean it can't be done. I'd venture to say that most real change happens in the face of apparent impossibility (or at least apparent great difficulty).

People's attitudes or priorities can change, sometimes quickly. Seth rightly notes that attitudes can change for the worse. But I'm willing to wager that more knowledge about Darfur would challenge most people's attitudes for the better.

I believe that was the case, for example, when people throughout the United States saw policemen using fire hoses and attack dogs to brutalize black protesters during the Civil Rights Movement. More recently, think of the images of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or coastal Asia after the tsunami.

The examples I've cited seem particularly apt, because the medium of television made a difference. I'm sure that most of you agree that the medium of the Internet is at least as powerful and transformative.

Right now, Darfur is in the category of the Kashmir earthquake, rather than Katrina or the tsunami. Essentially, out of sight, out of mind. We can help to put it plainly in sight.

* * *

We always hear "Never Again" when it comes to the Holocaust. Clearly, the world has acted more by the principle "Ever again." Genocide and mass killing are now almost routine.

At some point, we must say "Never again" and mean it. At some point, we must support our good sentiments with actions.

* * *

So be creative, and do what you can. Keep thinking, keep talking – but certainly act.

Global Voices, mentioned by pd, is on the right track. But there's much more to be done. (Globalvoicesonline.org is only about the 40,000 ranked website. I think that we need something more wide-ranging ... which is why I mentioned YouTube as a possibility. Whatever catches the attention of popular or numerous sites – or many people, in some way – would be helpful.)

* * *

Incidentally, I disagree with Roger that humanitarian aid is enough. Despite humanitarian aid, hundreds of thousands have died; many more have suffered; and it's only getting worse. I also don't understand the "power vacuum" that Roger fears .... How can replacing those currently in power (essentially, bands of armed men who continually commit violence against civilians) with, say, a UN peacekeeping force or even with nothing at all be any worse? In any event, I'd prefer the risks of a power vacuum to a clear and present danger of death, disease, and destruction for millions of people.

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

In re-reading the last part of my previous comment, I realize that I have omitted some of Roger's views.

Roger mentioned humanitarian aid and observers/"silent witnesses." Adding observers is helpful, but only if they are not truly silent. What I'm proposing to spread the messages of victims and observers.

Roger also referred to "grassroots support of individuals by individuals." Likewise, I think that this is helpful ... if the grassroots action of individuals magnifies the voices of those on the ground.

Especially with our "Web 2.0" technologies, I believe that individuals on the Internet – on their own or together – can help individuals in Darfur. But in the end, I believe that they will help only if they move governments or international organizations such as the UN to act effectively. Otherwise, the witnesses will simply watch millions suffer and die.

Anonymous678 [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

I totally agree with you Scott. I will try posting something on my website, but I doubt it will help. Hopefully, if I promote my website enough, maybe something will happen.

Christopher Sisk [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #

Personally, I'm more concerned with the millions of starving and poor in what we have the nerve to call "Third World Countries"... In my mind, in the year 2006, with the technology, resources and money available by our nations and our peoples, there is absolutely no excuse for entire nations being "underprivileged" or "poor" or "starving" ... When will we begin to think past our own petty wants and desires and focus on the human race as a single species? When will we start looking at the Earth as a single organism? Our bodies are made up of billions of tiny parts that all work together to keep us moving and alive. The Earth is also made up of billions of different species and parts that all have to work together if its going to survive. I think Carl Sagan said it best... "An organism at war with itself, is clearly doomed."

Seth Finkelstein [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Philipp, China censorship is not a good example because you're comparing the lobbies in Western countries, which have an incentive to complain about it in the sense of "Evil Empire", while the Chinese pro-censorship lobby basically doesn't care what Western countries think. I have LIVED THE DIFFERENCE, when there are powerful lobbies on the side of content restrictions, and the lying, smears, and personal attacks can be intense, as well as very clear incentives to go along with the money and power.
[Imagine if a China censor was getting articles published saying "So-and-so is a cultural imperialist who wants to tell the Chinese people what to do, an arrogant European who claims to be tolerant but is not tolerant of other's morals." – and then the echo-chamber swings into high gear, "So-and-so just shows the intolerance of liberals, trying to dictate how people can live ...". See, that doesn't happen on the China censorship issue, because there's nobody in the West on that side.]

In fact, once can see very much exactly the point where the incentives stop.
"China bad! China evil! Commies anti-freedom!" – this is a very approved statement.
"Cisco and Western companies make censorship for China" – this is where the approval stops (not that you can't say it, but the drop-off in support is very clear at this point).

Anyway, my point is that many people doing activism have a very bad model of events. While their heart is in the right place, and I sympathize greatly with the goals, that won't make them happen. The idea if we can just raise public awareness, perhaps by playing with our new toys, warrants skeptical examination, especially if the opponents have the exact new toys.

Scott, the error you're making is in the phrase "medium of television". It's not that there was this *tehcnology* "television" which suddenly changed the equation. It's that there was a very strong *faction* in the United States sympathetic to civil-rights, and so that message was propagated instead of being marginalized. I call it "Civil War II", because it was basically a second version of North vs. South, Federal vs. State.

That's the error I think activists make, thinking it's all about technology, the "medium of [whatever]". It isn't, and anyone who tells you that is either ignorant or a very dangerous con-man.

TOMHTML [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

I don't know if you have already talk about that : in the latest Google Earth update, new pictures of the Darfur were available

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

Christopher and Seth make significant points, in my view. I promise to reply when I have free time to gather my thoughts (and also to look at the Google Earth update on Darfur). Perhaps, in the meantime, someone will express views on these comments better than I can.

My main contribution was to start the conversation here. I can only hope that it does not stop, but rather spreads to other places, and yields good outcomes.

If anyone happens to know of similar discussions, I'd be interested in links to them, or references to writings or projects on this subject. I plan to read a book by Cass Sunstein called "Infotopia," which seems pertinent. Jared Diamond gives "Reasons for Hope" at the end of his book "Collapse," providing optimism that destructions of societies can be averted. Also, as previously mentioned, Global Voices is doing work in this area. I presume that there's something else out there on point.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Scott, the phrase "silent witness" as I understand it means observing without intervening. After the event, one does indeed disseminate what was observed as widely (and loudly, and impartially) as possible.

It can help, because if people know they are being watched closely and will be judged for their actions, this puts some pressure on them not to act.

It's not the solution of course, but I don't know if any short-term "solution" has ever been shown to help. You can never "force" people to be at peace.

So what is the best long-term approach? Scott, you're quite right to say:

> We always hear "Never Again" when it comes to the
> Holocaust. ... Genocide and mass killing are now almost
> routine. ... At some point, we must say "Never again"
> and mean it.

The difficulty is: "never again" is a slogan, not a principle. It doesn't even define _what_ must never happen again. Leaders need to step back from individual conflicts and work out some higher-level principles.

In fact the world used to have some of these. One of them was "respect the sovereignty of nations". Another was "do not assassinate leaders of other countries to forward your own country's political goals". But world leaders are increasingly tossing these ideas away, replaced by the idea that "might is right".

Without any group of countries taking the "moral high ground", it's not surprising that insurgents, tinpot dictatorships, coup leaders etc also adopt the "might is right" dictum.

There have been a number of recent chances to improve things. For example, when countries such as Russia opposed the mooted invasion of Afghanistan, there were two possible courses of action. The west could have said "OK hang on, let's step back a little and work out the over-riding principles of when (or whether) it's acceptable to force an overthrow of a regime". Having worked out a set of principles, future actions could be judged against that. Or, the west could have said "tough luck, we're invading anyway", which of course is what happened.

I'm not suggesting that Russia is the good guy here. Talk about pots and kettles calling each other black! But after the invasion of Afghanistan by the west (in the name of "fighting terrorism"), Putin hardened his attitude to Chechnya citing exactly the same arguments used by the west in Afghanistan. If you don't take the (difficult) moral high ground, you can't expect others to do so either. An opportunity to increase world peace was wasted by all here, and there are numerous other examples.

I'm going to bow out of this thread now. I don't think web discussions are the most productive way to work towards change. I prefer to put my energy into trying to persuade my own government to develop principles that can increase world peace. I don't have high-level connections or influence, so I can only do this by voting, letter-writing, joining protest rallies etc. But I do what I can. I know that if only a fraction of the warfare budget was spent on promoting peace, it would succeed.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

I've asked someone with deeper knowledge of the subject and he says that one first needs a very good understanding of the problem – otherwise, you'll be hitting a complex problem with a sledgehammer. He says there are people who have good knowledge and empathy of the situation, like Alex de Waal (who may be at Harvard) and Mahmoud Mamdani at Columbia. Those people need to be contacted, he says. He ponders that if military intervention in Darfur is appropriate, the US military might need to be burdened with this task.

He adds that similar issues arise in e.g. Eastern Congo, where about 4 million may have died in the last couple of years... and that there are issues where (US-citizens) are more directly responsible, as about an estimated 650,000 people have died since the Iraq invasion (and around 1 million more during the US/UK sanctions). Other situations where one should think about getting involved are deaths of children in Southern Africa – dying from starvation, or disease, everyday at Rwanda levels. Those may be saved for a tiny, tiny fraction of what we earn.

It should be noted that simply sending material aid, like food and clothes, can destroy local markets (local producers won't be able to sell their own goods because the prices are brought down by those who sell aid goods) and thus bring more suffering in the long term – whereas sending funds to enable purchase of locally produced goods, like food, does not have this negative effect.

Seth Finkelstein [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Look up "Fred Cuny", for a great story of someone who:

1) Thought deeply about such problems

2) Actually *made a difference*

3) Got killed in the process

hrw.org/community/bookreviews/ ...

Tadeusz Szewczyk [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

There is no oil or other indispensable resources for the west in Darfur, only Gummi arabicum, so the US will not bother to engage troops in this conflict.
Besides, the conflict is the outcome of almost 500 years of colonialism (main slave trade route!) and what came after that under a different disguise.
Like in most armed conflicts worldwide, money is the key. If you would sever economic aid and other relations with the responsible government and apply pressure in the form of an embargo or other sanctions you might have an impact.
Of course that would hit the population too, that's a major drawback.

We shouldn't forget that the international community does not care for dying Africans. AIDS, the mobile phone-wars in Kongo, Malaria or simply hunger kills millions of Africans every year. Western nations and corporations predominantly attempt to secure the resources down there, with any means possible, that's why the Kongo conflict is fuelled again and again.

What the west can do is take as many refugees in as possible to save them but of course "fortress Europe" e.g. makes sure that they die on the way by drowning, in the desert or by getting killed while climbing border fences.

Mark Jones [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #

This is an interesting debate and I've referenced it from the Reuters AlertNet site which is working to increase media coverage of humanitarian crises like Darfur.

alertnet.org/db/blogs/3/2006/1 ...

My question is whether there is anything that can be done to increase the number of bloggers from the reqion. I feel that blogs have given me a better understanding of Iran, and of political dissent in China. I'm wondering whether interest in Darfur might be boosted if there were more blogs.

Rob Fuller [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #

I'm glad that Philipp mentioned the down-side of humanitarian aid. I have worked in Sudan and (more recently) in Haiti, another extremely poor country which is the subject of much American "something must be done" attention. I think it is dubious whether Haiti has benefited or been damaged overall by American attention. The effects of outside interventions (both humantiarian and military) have certainly included the destruction of local markets and jobs (in the way that Philipp has described), a series of US-sponsored military coups, and an almost universal hatred of foreigners among Haitian people.

My point is that good intentions are not enough. Scott, what do you want to achieve in the case of Darfur? You mention a protest... who do you want to protest to/against?

There is already a huge amount of media coverage of Darfur (in Europe, at least). The US, UN and other western and African governments have been trying hard for the last two years to find a way to stop the fighting. But the people causing the problem are the various groups who are fighting and driving people from their homes. The only participant I can imagine any outsiders having any influence on is the Sudanese government, who sponsor and contribute to the violence, and who have been preventing the deployment of a UN "peacekeeping" force.

Maybe you are thinking of something like Amnesty International's approach? They try to put gentle pressure on individuals in governments by organising ordinary people around the world to write letters. That may sometimes work. But in this case, the only outsider thought to have any influence on the Sudanese government is China, since it buys most of Sudan's oil. (China may have started using this influence to good effect at the UN last week: see, for example, economist.com/printedition/dis ...)

Of course, the root cause of conflicts like that in Darfur and some other underdeveloped countries is pressure on resources: not enough water or farmland to go round in a dry part of the world. Jared Diamond makes this point excellently in the book "Collapse", which Scott already referred to. Who knows what the answers to these problems are in the long term.... controlling environmental destruction (which is about much more than just climate change) and slowing down exploding population growth rates in resource-poor countries are the challenges for the future.

(As a footnote, to both Philipp and Tadeusz, it's true that millions of people are thought to have died in pointless wars in the Congo since 1997. However, the international community in fact invested a huge amount in the peace process there, including by sending the biggest ever UN force. The country has been relatively (but only relatively) peaceful since late 2003, and has just held its first ever democratic election for president.)

Marshall Kirkpatrick [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #

See genocideintervention.net/index ... for an example of an organization working on this issue with an eye towards building long term infrastructure to deal with issues like it as they emerge. Can't vouch for them, but they are active and interesting.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Alex de Waal was mentioned by my source and is also mentioned as one of the endorsers of genocideintervention.net.
genocideintervention.net/about ...

The site also suggests this movie:
amazon.com/Hotel-Rwanda-Xolani ...

They also have a donate button:
genocideintervention.net/donat ...

Ole Marindahl [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #

There is a solution. It is direct personal action. If you care, Go! (to Darfur).

The American International Militia of Americans for Moral Policy is now organizing. Please join at www.aim-amp.org

Ole Marindahl [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #


aim-amp.org

The American International Militia of Americans for Moral Policy

Seth Finkelstein [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

To a first approximation, it doesn't matter whether there are on-the-scene bloggers. If the relevant Western gatekeepers don't promote those local bloggers, NOBODY WILL HEAR THEM. Inversely, if the blog media A-list is behind such a cause, a few locals is more than sufficient (and in fact, the media system won't support promoting more than few). The situation with Iraq is instructive, as each Western faction has its native blog allies (all Western-oriented, that goes without saying).

I actually think Global Voices does some excellent work here – but the way in which they operate is as high-status media-connnected people repackaging stringers for bigger media consumption. I mean that here as a good thing – but it's very much dependent on the good will, and even more so, the good media access, of the people who run it.

And media promotion, while critical, can only accomplish so much.

LSK [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #

If we get enough attention generated around the blogosphere, mass media will pick up on the issue, even if it's old news. If mass media picks up on it, someone in a high place may notice as well. It's worth a shot.

Rob Fuller [PersonRank 1]

13 years ago #

Hasn't mass media already picked up on this? In Britain, Darfur has often been on the front pages of the newspapers over the last 2-3 years. Perhaps the American media is different. But many people in "high places" (including in the US government) have already been devoting a lot of time and attention to this issue. I don't really understand what you expect the western media to achieve in this case.

Jonah Burke [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

Here's something you can do: Visit The Darfur Wall – darfurwall.org – and donate one dollar.

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

My replies to Christopher and Seth, as promised a week ago:

To Christopher: The view of the world as an interdependent organism reminds me of Thomas Friedman's concept that "the world is flat." (I haven't yet read Friedman's book; but in light of this discussion, I think I will.) Reducing war, or reducing poverty, are surely healthier for the world (and not just for the people most immediately affected).

To Seth: Change is not "all" about technology; but surely technology can be part of change. A technology like television or the Internet can foster change, both positive and negative. (Though there is no objective definition of "positive" and "negative," I feel comfortable in saying that fostering desegregation and ending violence are positive.) For some considerations of this topic, see:
press.princeton.edu/titles/754 ...
h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi? ...
museum.tv/archives/etv/C/htmlC ...

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

The Internet allows any individual or concept to reach millions of people. We can all think of examples of images or ideas that have spread like wildfire in recent years through viral videos, blogs, emails, etc.

I'm not the best person to give a lesson in how to create a meme, or how to move an idea beyond a tipping point. But I'm encouraged by my experience here. I posted some thoughts in this forum; Philipp placed my post on the blog; Reuters AlertNet picked up on this topic; and then it progressed to at least a few other blogs and presumably many RSS readers ...

blogoscoped.com/archive/2006-1 ...
alertnet.org/db/blogs/3/2006/1 ...
darfur-awareness.org/2006/11/2 ...
globalvoicesonline.org/2006/11 ...
mideastyouth.com/2006/11/29/ca ...

If this can happen for me, it can happen for you too, perhaps on a broader scale. Who knows which of us will make a difference, or will reach the people who will make a difference? But if you feel that Darfur and other issues are important, you might as well try.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

Recent events reminded me that in 2002 Scott posted a question to Google Answers entitled "Preventing the War in Iraq" which I had a go at answering:

answers.google.com/answers/thr ...

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

Good memory, Roger! And appropriate too .... My goals are unchanged.

The U.S. government's venture in Iraq had more supporters in 2003, and still has more now, I suppose, than the Sudanese government's venture in Darfur. However, I trust that if all views get a hearing on an issue, the best views will win out. Perhaps the best views won't prevail at the time ... perhaps it will take history to judge. Nevertheless, I believe that we should be part of the debate – and part of convincing those in power to help people as best they can – rather than stay on the sidelines, saying there's nothing we can do.

Incidentally, here's the follow-up question that I posted:

answers.google.com/answers/thr ...

Seth Finkelstein [PersonRank 10]

13 years ago #

"The Internet allows any individual or concept to reach millions ..."

The newspapers, radio, TV, etc do the same. Yet Darfur is as we see it now.

The trick is to realize that there's plenty of individuals and concepts, and very few will reach millions.

So it's like "The lottery allows any individual to win a million dollars".

That is a true statement. Someone will win the lottery. But it's very unlikely to be you.

Let's see, you just told me a bunch of well-off Westerners, some of who have a business hyping technology, liked your concept. Are you sure this isn't proving my point? :-(

The problem is that it isn't costless to try. And moreover, when you start doing things which actually might matter, there's pushback from the other side.

Perhaps I'm too discouraging. But change is much more difficult than it may appear.

  

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

I think that Seth is correct that "the trick is to realize that there's plenty of individuals and concepts, and very few will reach millions." I also agree that it's not costless to express your views, and that there's pushback when you do.

Nevertheless, many people do make their opinions and information known, whether in their own names or anonymously. People's tolerance for cost differs. I would hope that a fair number of people will present helpful views, and thus advance the debate and foster change.

How can we lower the cost for such people to do so, without drowning the world in opinions and causing more harmful pushback? I mentioned "Web 2.0" earlier because I feel that it points the way to a solution.

Wikipedia may not be the best example of Web 2.0; but it has done an impressive job of allowing many people to share information by collaborating on millions of articles. (People have proposed related sites such as Wikidea and Wikopinions. I'm not sure whether anything has resulted from those proposals.) Sites like Wikipedia – or YouTube, MySpace, Slashdot, etc. – lower costs, increase reach, allow many people to contribute. (Many are "well-off Westerners" – but more and more are not.)

With enough people on board – even if a small percentage for any given topic – these contributions (collectively or individually) can effect significant change in views and actions. Meanwhile, those who want to stifle the people who propose change would have a hard time doing so if these people are spread across a country or world.

Change is difficult. But in my view, it is possible. We can decide what we want to do with the power of the Internet, mobile phones, iPods, and other information technologies. And I hope that we will decide to use them to tackle situations in which people are suffering.

Scott [PersonRank 0]

13 years ago #

Here's one more resource that I believe is relevant to this discussion: An Army of Davids, by Glenn Reynolds (a/k/a Instapundit):

thomasnelson.com/consumer/prod ...

Whether or not you agree with everything that Reynolds says – which I do not – I believe that you can obtain from his book a greater sense of the power that the Internet provides to its users (the "Davids" of the book's title, in contrast to large organizational "Goliaths").

This thread is locked as it's old... but you can create a new thread in the forum. 

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