The reciprocal influence between politics and media during the performance of democratic elections is a spectacle that has always fascinated me. It is clear that Internet and social networking technologies like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are becoming key protagonists in this performance, changing the rules of the game for good. The NYTimes has reported yesterday that the US State Department considers Twitter an important player during the current state of the Iranian electoral crisis. Could Twitter have prevented the destruction of Chilean democratically elected Popular Unity government in 1973, or the Mexican massacre of students in 1968? Probably not, but the combined communication resources provided by the web and mobile phones can help bring transparency and civic agency against the monolithic institutions of traditional media, hopefully contributing towards making a difference some day.
However, to make this kind of communication systems ever work at all without becoming new tools to manipulate public opinion like other media, something needs to be done about the digital divide, because today most people everywhere have no access or representation in the digital communication sphere.
So yeah, on one side, internet can help communities organize and express themselves against an imposed establishment. On the other side, it can facilitate new resources to interventionist strategies. This problem is of particular importance in a world where global notions of sovereignty are ill-defined and always biased.
Based on a Kenyan OpenSource mobile monitoring web engine called Ushahidi [“testimony” in Swahili], a group of friends from MIT and beyond [including me] has put together an application called cuidemos el voto to help report irregularities during the upcoming Mexican Federal Elections [July 5, 2009] using mobile phones and a web application.
I was in charge of creating a concept and designing the graphic image of the project. The biggest challenge was to find a fun way to represent the main idea without compromising the seriousness of the matter. “Cuidemos el voto” means “let’s protect the vote together”, and it occurred to me that there is no better symbol to protect the mexican vote than the anonymous masked mexican wrestler.
Mexico is a nation with a history of fraudulent elections. For many of us, it’s very hard to believe that voting can have a positive effect on how we live, or change anything at all. Experimentation with systems that help foster civic participation in a politically lethargic society sounds like a good idea. It even makes ME sound like less of a cynic ;P.