Mobile Activism Specific to East Asia? No.

In last week’s WaPo, Anne Applebaum writes about mobile phones in political organizing in East Asia. “That covert cellphones have become the most important means of transmitting news from certain parts of East Asia is no accident. Llasa, Rangoon, Xinjiang and North Korea are all places dominated, directly or indirectly, by the same media-shy, publicity-sensitive Chinese regime.”

She is almost certainly wrong that there is something specific to China-dominated regions that make them more amenable to using mobile phones for activism. Anyone who follows this space can immediately think of a handful of anecdotes from Eastern Europe or East Africa where mobiles have played much the same role. But is these any evidence that certain types of regimes make certain digital activist tools more useful? While there may be different kinds of government surveillance or various levels of internet penetration in different regimes, I think the fundamentals of digital activism are the same. What MIT Computer Science professor Steve Mann calls ‘sousveillence‘, using mobile technology to keep governments accountable, is useful regardless of location.

Cross-posted to In An African Minute

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