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Aidan Hiljeh

Technological Innovation Empowers Political Change Overseas

Apr 02 2012, 05:49 PM by

Information longs to be free, and technological innovation is seeing that it gets its wish. A combination of the internet and a growing number of devices is seeing that free speech is a right enjoyed by the worldwide population. Technology has given a voice to the voiceless, providing an outlet for citizens in oppressed cultures to step up and speak out.
Songs of Defiance
Al Jazeera English, the English branch of Qatar Media Corporation’s Arabic broadcasting station, recently aired the war documentary Syria: Songs of Defiance. Shot entirely on an Apple iPhone, the 25-minute documentary provides footage from various local villages to give viewers a glimpse of a nation ravaged by violence. The situation in Syria is apparently so dire that the identity of the Al Jazeera reporter is being hidden for the safety of their contacts. However, the footage that appears in the documentary shows that a feature-rich smartphone like the iPhone can produce a TV-quality production.
This Is Not a Film
Much has been made about the free speech implications of bills like SOPA and ACTA, but if it’s one man who knows all about having creative freedoms literally stripped away, it would be Jafar Panahi. One of the Iran’s most prolific filmmakers and vocal citizens on the topic of politics, Panahi is currently out on bail while in the process of appealing a six year prison sentence. In addition to time behind bars, he is banned from conducting interviews with members of the foreign media and making films for 20 years. His crime: openly supporting what the Iranian government deemed the wrong political party in the 2009 election.

The setting for This Is Not a Film is Panahi’s apartment in Tehran, the place he was confined to when placed under house arrest. A 75-minute showing, the documentary profiles a day in the life of the embattled filmmaker at his home, though a few scenes were shot in the elevator of his apartment. Similar to Songs of Defiance, This Is Not a Film was not made with the best breed of Hollywood equipment - just a small digital camcorder and an iPhone. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is how the documentary had to be stored on a flash drive and smuggled inside a cake to make it past Iranian authorities and screen at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Kony 2012
Approximately one month ago, Joseph Kony was virtually unknown to the world. That all changed when Jason Russell and his non-profit organization Invisible Children released Kony 2012 on YouTube. The 27-minute documentary gave viewers a sneak peak at the brutality currently taking place in Uganda, particularly crimes tied to alleged war criminal Joseph Kony. In the video, it is alleged that the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Kony, is guilty of crimes ranging from abduction to rape to murder. These crimes are said to have even been committed against children, whom the army abducts from their homes and forces to join Kony’s ranks against their will.

Stop Kony became a viral hit, garnering more than 32 million views on YouTube within three days of its initial launch. The video also appears to be producing results, as African Union forces are reportedly preparing to move in and capture Kony, who is currently on the run evading over 30 counts of international violations.
Technological Youth Movement
With the collapse of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, some might assume that there would be unrest and even violence in the region shared by the Middle East and North Africa - but that is not the case. While citizens are taking to the streets to rally, they are doing so in peaceful fashion. This includes a group of youths who are using a combination of the internet, cell phones and social networking to organize these increasingly popular demonstrations with surprising efficiency. According to youth technology expert El Houcine Haichour, young people in Tunisia and Egypt are both embracing and mastering 21st century media much faster than their elders.

By enabling their voice to be heard, technology is also enabling citizens in various cultures to rebel against oppression in ways that differ from what has traditionally been considered the norm. Expect more people in more countries to adopt this trend - even if it puts their freedom and safety in jeopardy.

Posted in Social Media, Current Events, Tech Editorial

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