Use of Social Media during Chennai Floods

Synopsis:  Use of  Social Media during floods in Chennai

                                                              Piyush Mordia

 

Introduction:

 

Chennai is one of the most populous metropolitan cities of India. It is the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu .Normally, the city has very little rains. Last year , in the month of November, there were unprecedented heavy rains there when Chennai was hit with one cyclone after another. The rains broke all records with an unprecedented 1218 mm of rainfall, compared to 493 mm in 2009 when Chennai last had heavy rains.

The rains were so heavy that schools, colleges and offices were closed for most part of November 2015. Rivers which have had more sewage than water and lakes which have been absolutely dry for more than 20 years breached their banks leading to the submergence of surrounding areas.Water rose to the second floor of buildings in certain places. This resulted in intermittent power cuts and limited mobile connectivity across the city. And all this happened before the December 1st deluge.

The entire city came to a standstill, had power cuts lasting for 2 to 5 days. The city was dark and isolated.The telephone lines were disrupted.Chennai had never experienced anything so catastrophic ever before where even the connectivity between people had been cut off for so long.. If not for social media, the entire city would have been in the dark in more than one way.

 

Role played by social media:

 

During this period, a new trend was observed. Self motivated individuals created online communities and organized a large number of volunteers who worked relentlessly in the relief and rescue efforts. Social media became a medium to connect victims with rescue workers, provide information related to weather forecasts, coordinate the work of different public and private agencies and assure people that they are not being overlooked.

 

Objective of Research:

 

This Research Paper is an attempt to establish the link between the emergence of social media and its constructive use in bringing people together to cooperate in disaster management. The research paper attempts to gain an insight into the psyche of masses during disaster through the tweets and facebook messages posted by them.

It specifically studies  the innovative approaches , processes  and attitudes of online communities which were a game changer during Chennai floods.The paper seeks to address the following questions:

 

 

  1. What role did online communities play in mitigation and minimisation of crisis during Chennai Floods ?
  2. What specific role was played by Facebook, whats app , twitter and other social media platforms ?
  3. Is the e- governance movement in India designed to give a boost to  the growth of social media utilization during disasters?
  4. What specific challenges exist for social media platforms in India The paper also tries to draw comparison in the use of social media during the Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina crisis in USA with that of Chennai floods.

 

 

Research Methodology:

 

The paper will draw heavily on document analysis as its methodology.  As most of the stories are available online , the structural content will be  essentially based on the analysis of  these sites.  These websites are the primary source material for this work. The methodology requires that documents are studied, examined and then interpreted to find some consistent meanings and conclusions about the subject of study.

Conclusions drawn from the telephonic interviews of the officials involved in the mitigation of crisis will form an important component of the paper. Interviews of those who participated in the online communities’ voluntary work too are a part of the Research.

Conclusion:

The contribution of social media in disaster management during Chennai Floods is another example of the power of organizing without organizations. It reemphasizes the analysis of Clay Shirkey in his book “Here Comes Everybody” and of Wael Ghonim in his book “Revolution 2.0” when he reminds us that the power of the people is greater than the people in power. It becomes even more important in the Indian context as its success in a country of 1200 million opens the door for its widespread use in future to the extent that it becomes a part of the culture. I hope this research paper is able to do justice to its objectives.

 

Arab Spring: Power of Social Media

There were a series of protests in the middle east which  began with the unrest in Tunisia in 2010. These protests brought down several regimes in some  Arab countries and sparked mass uprisings against authoritarian governments in the others.These are commonly termed as the Arab spring.When the Arab spring happened in 2011, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had been in power for 31 years since 1980, Tunisia’s Ben Ali for 24 years since 1987 and Muammar al Qaddafi had ruled over Libya for 42 years.Most of the population was deeply frustrated because of the oppressive nature of these dictatorial regimes but remained passive out of fear.

The Arab spring has resulted in the ouster of dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. There were uprisings in Bahrain and Syria, major protests in Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait , Morocco and Oman.The main elements which give uniqueness to “Arab Spring” is that the protests were  largely  spontaneous and  leaderless. Social media proved a powerful mobilization tool. For example the protests that brought down Presidents  of Tunisia or Egypt began on Facebook.

The immediate cause of the enormous protests in Tunisia was the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, an unlicenced vegetable vendor, when he was humiliated and  his cart  confiscated by the  police in full public view.Though  Tunisian state media downplayed the protests , the news spread on social networks and the protrests spread and grew.The power of people was so enormous that the President Ben Ali had to sack his interior minister, release all detainees and flee to Saudi Arabia.This acted as a catalyst to the revolution in Egypt which was already on the verge of eruption as the patience and tolerance  of the masses could no longer bear the exploitation and atrocities of their dictatorial government.

Wael Ghonim gives a detailed account of the sequence of events in Egypt which began with the brutal killing of a young Egyptian called Khaled Mohammed Said.This incident led to the creation of a facebook page by Wael Ghonim which soon had more than 3,50,000 followers.This page was called “Kullena Khaled Said” meaning “ We are all Khaled Said”.As admin of this facebook page, Ghonim kept the issue alive.He energized, motivated and raised hopes of the members of the group.He utilized the facebook page for accommodating the images, poetry , messages, blogs and responses .He planned and invited members for silent stands in several districts of Egypt including Cairo and Alexandria.The online mobilization soon grew into on street protests.The digital action and physical work were used in tandem to reach different audiences and together succeeded in bringing about the long awaited change of government.The government got scared of the power of social media to such an extent that it blocked internet in the whole of Egypt in order to check the protests.

According to Wael Ghonim, the objective of their facebook page was to mobilize public support for their cause.The strategy they adopted was the sales tunnel approach used in marketing.First convince people to join the page and read its posts, second, to make them start interacting with the content by “liking” and “commenting” upon it, third, get them to participate in the page’s online campaign and to contribute to its content and fourth, to take the activism to the streets.

Arab springs is an  example of the power of the people and the way it can be harnessed using modern   technology and internet.Clay Shirkey has also stated in his book “Here comes everybody” that internet has made group formation ridiculously easy.Wael Ghonim writes, “Our revolution is like Wikipedia. Everyone is contributing content in small bits and pieces for a common cause though their identity remains unknown even to each other.  He further says,”This is the power of internet and social media. Participatory democracy is becoming a reality and slowly but surely, the weapons of mass oppression are becoming extinct.”

Nobody likes to be oppressed.But still dictatorships flourished. The reason was that people were afraid of speaking out.Those who were vocal got  identified and punished. The mainstream media in these dictatorships was either state owned or censored by the state. It was therefore biased towards the state which controlled it. The media’s suppression of the physical world made the virtual world a critical alternative for promoting the cause of the masses.The virtual world encouraged the masses to speak up without fear  against the brutality of the government because their identity would not get disclosed.Even Wael Ghonim, the admin and man behind the facebook page on Khaled Said, used a software called Tor which continuously generated proxy IP addresses to prevent his antecedents to be known to secret service. The Arab spring is an example of the power of the people which is harnessed intelligently by mobilization of people using internet and channelizing their energies in the physical space supplemented by traditional ways of protest.

By: Piyush Mordia

 

 

 

 

 

The Chess of Political Persuasion

The elections in any democracy depend upon the inclination of  voters to get out of their  comfort zone and reach the polling stations to vote. They have  to be persuaded  to vote  and fulfill the duty or obligation expected  from all mature, responsible and eligible citizens. They are further persuaded by different parties and candidates to vote for them. Successful candidates are those who not only identify the pulse of the public but are also  able to devise and convey  suitable messages which address the needs and aspirations of the electorate and can speak the language of the masses.The strategies of political persuasion have witnessed a gradual evolution and transformation during the last few decades.They involve the  use of money, manpower, print , television, digital- social media and direct interaction between the voters and the  general public.The conviction with which a candidate is able to convey a message and the apparent genuineness of his purpose usually create a lasting impression during these one to one interactions.The empathy and understanding which a candidate is able to display (even if he doesn’t actually hold the same) forms the basis of the decision which voters take.

The mass advocacy efforts have always been an inherent part of democracy. David Karpf, in his book, The Move On Effect :The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy, has given an excellent analysis of how digital platforms have disrupted politics and revolutionized mass advocacy efforts. He has studied digital/ online politics and political engagement in his book. He further analyses membership and fundraising practices via novel and innovative methods. Fundraising is important because running a political campaign has become an expensive proposition. High costs are involved in running political campaigns at local,  state or national level. The book highlights important variations among the new organizations including internet based online organizations like MoveOn.org, community blogs like DailyKos.com and neo federated groups like DemocracyforAmerica.com. MoveOn has developed an innovative way of acquisition of  emails through online petitions.The petition signers are then sent carefully designed effective emails to convert them into political donors.

Another kind of advocacy groups have emerged in the form of  blogs like  DailyKos.com.They select priority issue campaigns, endorse candidates for office, fundraise millions of dollars for their priority candidates and campaigns and also seek to influence political decision makers.The goals include educating the public, influencing the political agenda and persuading decision makers.Such blogs are not just personal megaphones but they engage their members through online participation. Fundraising portals like ActBlue provide the technical infrastructure necessary for the candidate centric pass through fundraising practiced by DailyKos and other similar organizations.

Sasha issenberg has written a book called   “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”.The book analyses the  increased reliance on a mix of computer technology and behavioural psychology for the purpose of reaching out to the voters, persuading them , generating monetary contributions for the election campaigns, conveying, elaborating and explaining the message to the electorate, getting feedback and ensuring that people go out and vote.It is important in a democracy to understand the theory about what motivates people to go to the polls, what makes them more likely to choose one candidate over another and what kind of messages work  best. The book  gives a vivid illustration  of different phases through which political persuasion has evolved. It talks about early 1920s when a political scientist named Harold Gosnell sent out post cards with different appeals to vote and measured the effectiveness of each.Eighty eight years hence Barack Obama’s team used the available information  to shape and structure  its entire campaign for maximum effectiveness using internet.They made an extra effort to find the 17 year olds who will turn 18 by November   and be eligible to vote.They then prepared messages  which specifically targeted such voters.When Obama’s advisers learned that swing voter households containing teenagers were more likely to support him, they bought space within video games which such teenagers play. The book has a variety of such examples.

The adoption of new technology and  methods of persuasion of voters is a continuously evolving exercise and is leaping ahead of imagination. It is an interesting insight into human creativity and  innovation.     The interface offered by internet is low cost, virtual and versatile. Therefore it is  used to communicate the message of the candidate , raise funds , mobilize support, discuss issues, provide responses and get feedback . The result of the Presidential elections of USA suggest that all the above  theories of persuasion may sometimes prove to be insufficient. It is not necessarily the richest candidate, not necessarily the one who has the largest number of ground level workers  or the one who has an organizational base or has  been preparing for a longer period or the one  who spends a lot of money on media who wins but  ultimately the candidate who is able to successfully persuade  is the one who has an appealing message for the masses and with whom the vast  majority can identify their aspirations.

The problem arises  when a suitably qualified, rational and capable  candidate fails in conveying his message and the unqualified and irrational succeeds in persuading the masses. As Professor Nicco Mele of Harvard Kennedy School has written  in his book titled The End of Big, “ We do not yet know if five or ten years from now we will find ourselves with a leadership not merely incapable of handling or preventing national crises but also haplessly or intentionally creating new ones of their own. The old way of nominating leaders isn’t working , and so it’s time for all of us, regardless of party to get involved and get creative. Together, Let’s build new institutions consistent with our values and the realities of radical connectivity.” With the Post Presidential elections of USA, this has become all the more important.

 

Piyush Mordia

 

Fear is just a state of mind, so is fearlessness

 

As a child , I used to get very anxious whenever I  got sick and was prescribed an injection by the doctor. My mind kept imagining the moment when the syringe would be brought near my arm and the extreme, agonizing and intense pain which I will have to bear after that. I used to pray that my parents forget the date of my next vaccination. I still have in my mind  the distinct image of myself  tightly clasping the hands of my mother whenever the terrible needle was being injected in my arm. Continuous reassurance by her failed to curb the intense anxiety that I would feel at the sight of a needle.

One evening my  father had  invited one of his old friends  with his family  for dinner.  He had gone to college with this friend but after college they went their separate ways. I had heard about them from him several times  but was meeting their family for the first time. The couple had a son Gaurav who was ten years old and their daughter Ekta was just six or seven. The children were very well mannered and cheerful. We got along well.  My mother came and asked me and my brother  to take them to our room and   play with them. They went with us to our room. The boy was like any child of that age- hyperactive, candid and addicted to video games. The girl, though only seven years, had a calm, composed and serene face and  seemed to be a happy go lucky child. We were playing in the room as if it was a football field.

The girl was wearing a long skirt and was carrying herself with grace and poise unlike children of that age. Then, suddenly, her brother, who was running around in the room lost his balance  and fell on her.She   slipped on the floor. It looked as if her right leg had come off. I was barely able to stop a scream. Then I saw that it was actually a prosthetic limb which she had in place of her right leg.

The girl didn’t cry or utter a single word. She just pulled her “leg” with her small arms and tried to fix it back herself as if she was simply wearing her shoes. After that she said ,”what should we play now?”, as if nothing had happened. I was still shocked and was repeatedly looking at her. I came to know that she had met with  an accident two years back. Her right leg had been completely crushed and had to be amputated. She used to wear only long skirts or trousers whenever she went out  so that she appeared normal. Her mother told my parents that she never said no to an injection (she had to take many injections after the operation). In fact, she never got depressed and was brave enough  to inject herself with great skill and precision. I couldn’t help admiring her. How can a person so young have such big issues to deal  with and still remain happy and cheerful.Does she not inspire everyone who meets her? Doesn’t she set an example for others to emulate.  She looked at my face which was in a state of shock and surprise. I  remember her innocent expression even today, how  she got up immediately and without getting perturbed ,    said in her enthusiastic voice   “Let us play “.

That night my father, mother, I  and my brother sat together for a long time. We discussed about the little girl and the terrible tragedy which she went through at that early age . Her indomitable  spirit was beyond my comprehension. The inspiration which I got after meeting that girl has left a life long impression on my mind. The day  my swimming teacher asked me to dive for the first time from the 15 meter high diving board, I did not think twice. Just went up the stairs and jumped.Unlike my fellow sky divers, I did not hesitate even for a moment when I had to take the next step and jump from the training aircraft. The  determined look  of that little girl has made me fearless for the rest of my life. She taught me the biggest lesson of my life. I stopped being  afraid of any kind of adverse situation, any type of anticipated failures and of course   from  injections since that day.

Piyush Mordia

 

 

 

 

Threats at the border and borderless threats: Piyush Mordia

 

 

Normal is repeatedly redefined to include more and more abnormals. The visible and tangible borders are also being redefined to include more and more invisible and intangible territories.  The normal or traditional perception of any nation consisted of its physical boundaries or borders along with the entire population of citizens residing in it. Security of any sovereign state implied protection of its borders which physically determined the extent of jurisdiction of its governments. Nations built military strength to prevent, deter, protect or repel attacks by other nations. An encroachment by a state inside the territory or borders of another state was the only major threat to its sovereignty. The perception of government towards security was dominated by the ability to protect its land or sea borders.

Today, the world is very different. It is not symmetrical. It is not a world of borders but is a world of borderless threats, a world of cyber threats, a world of disasters on a fairly large scale that can cause a substantial damage to our citizens and their property.Today, we have to be prepared to protect ourselves from external threats of a different kind.How can a terrorist organization affect our computer systems, our banking systems , our air traffic systems ? How to respond to these threats ? How should we be interacting with other agencies to counter such threats effectively?

Cyberterrorism is a kind of politically motivated  borderless threat perpetrated through the use of computers, information technology, networking and internet in order to carry out destructive and malicious terrorist activities.The risk lies in the fact that cyber terrorism can target government records, air traffic controls, control of dams, medical records as well as the financial and commercial infrastructure. Cyber intervention can cause breach of national security, loss of physical assets, digital assets and interception of vital services. Perhaps, China has recognized this and has even restricted a few sites including Facebook which are  publicly available elsewhere.

Environmental and climatic change is altering the daily life in several places.Last year, President Obama touched down tiny Kotzebue, Alaska to observe how warming temperatures and melting permafrost are changing the way of life of arctic residents.Erosion from rising seas has already left several Alaskan villages in imminent danger of having to be relocated.Think about that- if another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we would do everything in our power to protect our territory.What are we doing to combat this borderless threat?

The refugee crisis in south east asia and in the Mediterranean can also not be solved using the traditional security approaches  of border security.There is a fundamental difference between the fighting forces and the civilians. Neither the deployment of Thai, Malaysian and Australian navies to intercept and repel migrant boats nor  the European Union proposal to destroy the vessels of Libyan ‘people traffickers’ be termed as humane. A militarized response to the state of affairs due to the social, political and economic conditions that are propelling refugee flows would be unethical, unreasonable and irrational.

Pandemics like Zika virus, ebola or H1N1 have affected the whole world and the borders between nations become irrelevant when they spread.According to an estimate, pandemic events would cost global economy over 6 trillion dollars- over 60 billion dollars per year in the 21st century.The report recommended spending 4.5 billion dollars annually on global prevention and response capabilities to reduce the threat posed by pandemic events. This threat transcends all borders making the traditional approaches of border security irrelevant.

All kinds of regulatory restrictions are applied on investigative and intelligence agencies thus making it difficult for them to share and synergise available information with their counterparts across  their borders.While fighting ISIS and other such terrorist organisations, intelligence agencies need to go borderless.Borderless threats can be countered only by borderless intelligence.Unless we take   preventive  measures which are not limited by borders, unless the  personnel across the border team up  against their common enemy, unless they use their combined skills  to track the terrorists- we may not be able to reach the logical conclusion in our fight against terrorism. A terrorist may belong to Afghanistan, travel through Syria and Greece, procure arms from Germany and attempt a daring attack in France or United Kingdom. Terrorism knows no borders.

It is a known fact  that disasters too, whether natural or technological, are not limited or restrained by borders. Hurricanes, storms, floods, environmental degradation and pollution due to industrial waste affect multiple countries at once when they occur.There was a possibility of the sea waters of Cuba getting affected during the BP oil spill.Indian and Pakistan face a huge loss due to the uncoordinated manner in which dykes and embankments have been built at the international border to stop the flooding of land on one side due to the river water of the other. If we have to prepare residents of a locality along a river or a canal for possible flooding , our efforts should not be limited by a political boundary.

The concern about borderless threats does not imply that the security of physical borders is a thing of the past . Maintenance  of sanctity of the border, prevention of transborder crimes and protection of borders from the illegal movement of drugs, weapons and people is a necessary element for the sovereignty and identity of a nation. The emotions of an entire nation get affected by any transgression into its physical borders.But the deployment of security forces needs to be supplemented by mutual cooperation in raising the opportunities of employment, education and  betterment of  living standards between neighbouring countries. Imposition of sanctions and trade embargoes by one  country upon the other, for whatever reasons, should be avoided. If United states imposed sanctions on Cuba, the people who got punished all these years were the innocent citizens of that country. This is a human right violation of another kind. If India deploys resources for the  development of  Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan; if United States ensures that Mexicans and Cubans get job opportunities in their own countries; if the objective is to ensure that the economy of all backward regions is at par with the developed nations, the threats will surely reduce. Afterall , development should be borderless too.

By: Piyush Mordia

 

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Journalism In Digital Age: Piyush Mordia

 

There was a time when the first thing any reasonably aware person needed every morning was a newspaper along with a cup of coffee. That was the most awaited moment of the day. Even if the news had been seen on the television a night before, the detailed analysis of the newspaper article gave most people a feeling of fulfillment and satisfied their curiosity to optimum level. The advertisements in the newspapers and classifieds were scanned and relevant ones underlined. The newspaper was a part of their daily routine and had become an inseparable part of the way of life. Today, we have entered a world where electronic production, distribution and consumption of news over the internet is reshaping the media landscape. Not only news, but the classified section has also been taken over by internet. The advertisements on craigslist draw more attention of potential customers and users than that drawn by newspaper advertisements.

The advertisers are also, therefore, giving preference to online advertising.  Newspaper ads are fighting a losing battle.  Advertising  in newspapers and television is not only  costly but also less effective .The target market can not be equated with the readership of the newspaper or its circulation since everybody may not be interested in the product or service being advertised. The online advertisements are targeted only  towards those who have an interest in the product.

The mechanism of pricing also provides more advantages to the  online advertiser rather than the one who uses traditional media. For example, the ads   on google ad are priced on the basis of cost per click. And obviously those who click are interested in what they are clicking at. The advertisements on the internet are cheaper and  generate less money per user. They make up for less price by the  volume of advertisers  since the number of users is exponentially large. More people now  consume news from sources other than newspaper or television. The internet has driven the demand for more data driven news. People read real time news on the mobile phones, tablets and computers. They keep receiving it continuously on whats app, facebook, twitter and numerous other platforms. In a matter of a few years we may have  wikipedia articles on disasters or twitter hash tag streams.

The number of traditional journalists too is gradually reducing and amateurs are reporting, producing , distributing and analyzing news on the internet. This has also led to the decay of the traditional agenda setting function of the press.Websites are available which give a detailed account of the subjects of readers’ interests. New.me a recent start up , filters through people’s twitter feeds and recommends the most widely used links from the past 24 hours. Bloggers have also cultivated their own set of readers. Online communities are  developing  watchdog capabilities like the ones practiced by newspaper editors earlier. The neutrality and verifiability feature of a Wikipedia article is a perfect substitute of a well analyzed unbiased newspaper story. Online communities are preparing news articles based on algorithmic choices,   data analysis, information visualization, solicitation of amateur input , feedback loops with crowd reaction and automated production of data driven stories.

New York times has recently come up with a 96 page internal  report which accepts the inability of the newspaper to adapt to the digital world. The digital companies like First Look Media, Vox, Huffington Post, Buzz feed are adapting in a much better way in building impressive support systems for digital journalist. They have learnt the concept of continuous updation of news as opposed to the traditional newspapers where the stories are updated only once in twenty four hours.

The changing scenario of the world of media and mass communication is of an unexpected and unimaginable level though it is not entirely unpredictable. Any revolution creates a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists while those who imagine fabulous alternative future are seen as radicals. But during the last couple of years , the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out of the windows and noticing that the real world increasingly resembled the unthinkable scenario. With the advent of internet, the cost of online news production and distribution has become very low.It is not possible for traditional media to compete with the new form. This has reduced the barriers of entry for common man to be a journalist.