The introduction of mobile technology into the political arena has changed the game in terms of ensuring a fair democratic process, citizen participation, and a more efficient medium for citizen to communicate. In analysis of the work of Howard Rheingold who catalogued early uses of mobile technologies, he implies that the mobile phone has indeed assisted in political change. Also, in analysis of Anu Koivunen’s research around social media’s role in politics, Koivunen shows that two different governments and established media outlets competed for assertion into the social media and mobile application landscape. With the combination of work between the aforementioned researchers, I’d like to argue how mobile media have indeed reshaped the way politics are conducted in an ever changing interconnected world.
But prior to this great interconnectivity, politics was a public art of physical bodies competing for participation and persuasion, a great series of events for people to acknowledge who will govern or preside over a state. This was done a number of ways for centuries, but one medium in particular dramatically changed how effectively it is done. This medium being, mobile media, has evolved and converged from traditional methods and took print, aural, and visual forms of information and made them instantly accessible with mobile devices. Making citizens in theory much more accessible themselves to participate and be influenced by politics. One particular case of this notion is presented in Anu Koivunen’s research of Sweden’ politics, though it was claimed in Swedish news that social media would play any role in their 2010 elections.
However, Koivunen alludes that to be preposterous showing us that, “according to media market research companies, in summer 2010 more than 700,000 people in Sweden owned an iPhone and many more intended to acquire one within a year.” (Snickars & Vonderau, 2012) Then going further to explain, “It is therefore no coincidence that a number of political iPhone apps were released during the summer of 2010 by different parties before the Swedish elections.” (Snickars & Vonderau, 2012) This was a trend seen in the U.K., Germany, and the U.S., as they respectively launched apps to enable mobile users to participate in their elections. Koivunen suggests this was done in lieu of fear of a changing media landscape and essentially to ensure a different stream of voter participation, hinted towards youths of nations. Social media and applications accessed by mobile devices have reshaped political participation, but it has also targeted electoral fraud.
In Africa, the vast continent itself lacking a strong fixed telecommunications infrastructure has adopted the mobile phone and radio to be a point form of communication for citizens throughout in various nations. With many countries still in development, many of their democracies are as well, as regions are constantly structuring and restructuring governments. Here is where the cataloguing of Howard Rheingold illustrates the importance mobile devices in politics, as civilians of Kenya used mobile phones to organize and combat voter fraud in their elections. Rheingold recounts comments by Bill Kagai who says, “… Just after the 2002 Kenyan elections that mobile phones contributed not only to high voter turnout but also to the legitimacy of results. Mobile phones gave enhanced transparency of process, campaign effectiveness, and reduction of fraud. (Kagai 2002)” (Katz, 2008)
Rheingold and Koivunen’s research helps us understand the position of mobile devices in politics, political parties of Sweden have developed mobile apps and used social media to solicit voters, which is undoubtedly a sign of their importance. But even developing countries like Kenya are using them to enhance their own democracies, but it doesn’t end there. The role mobile devices play in demonstrations and protests have also shaped politics, in one particular country it helped bring down an entire regime. When democracy was failing in the Philippines and its people organized to take democracy into their own hands, the technology used to facilitate this however was the text message. Rheingold illustrates the situation, “EDSA-2, the popular “people power” demonstrations that brought down the Joseph Estrada regime in 2001, was instantly and broadly recognized to have been self-organized via SMS. The president was under impeachment. When the impeachment trial was suddenly aborted by senators regarded to be Estrada supporters, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators began to assemble …” (Katz, 2008)
Whether governments create apps to garner participation, citizens use text messages to coordinate, or demonstrators to communicate, mobile devices have changed the way politics work. Though these were examples in various communities in our world, we individually as media consumers are not fixed to one stream of media anymore. This is evident in the use of the mobile applications, twitter for example combines participation, organization, and communication; making it available to the world. The world witnessed its ability in the Arab uprisings, particularly in Tahrir, Egypt after the death of a young man was recorded, posted online, and it went viral. Hence being considered a revolution it was one of a digital nature (as well as physical), “Their actions and demands continued to be digitally mediated. According to one activist, ‘we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.’”(Gregory, 2013) These events have demonstrated not only the strength of citizens, they have shown the tools they use to exhibit their power.
The democratic process around the world will no longer be performed the same with mobile devices being used so heavily throughout the world. They’re a direct means of participation for citizens and governments to communicate. We citizens use mobile devices to share opinion, news, and information about political candidates, policies and laws over networks and social media. They are what we use to ensure fair democratic process in countries with developing democracies. They are what we use when democracy fails to coordinate demonstration and protest against them. The interconnected world is governing itself thru mobile devices and demonstrating social justices throughout via mobile media, reshaping politics and our futures.
Katz, J. E. (2008). Handbook of mobile communication studies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Snickars, P. (2012). Moving data: the iphone and the future of media. New York: Columbia University Press.
Gregory, D. (2013). Tahrir: Politics, Publics and Performances of Space. Middle East Critique, 22(3), 235-246. doi:10.1080/19436149.2013.814944
Young Adults’ Social Activism [Infographic] – Urban Times. (n.d.). Urban Times RSS. Retrieved April 11, 2014, from http://urbantimes.co/2012/03/young-adults-social-activism-infographic/
Gettleman, J. (2010, August 4). New Constitution Nears Approval in Kenya. The New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/05/world/africa/05kenya.html?_r=0