Crisis Meet Citizen Journalists, Citizen Journalists Meet Ushahidi

ushahidi_button2_170pxAs South Africa evolves further and further away from its tumultuous past, citizens are arming themselves with their freedom to communicate. South Africa is one of Africa’s leading media centers with a diverse population. After apartheid ended in 1994 and the Bill of Rights was enacted in which guarantees that every citizen has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and media, the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas, etc. With South Africa undergoing an infrastructure upgrade to include online, wireless, and satellite connectivity, subscribers and users are on the rise. Subsequently, this increase in wireless technology has catapulted Africa to be one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. Online and wireless technologies aren’t perfect as there continues to be a disproportionate amount of poverty resulting in a vast majority of people remaining without reliable connectivity and technology capabilities.

Because mobile penetration has been on a steady rise and is more easily attainable to citizens than internet connectivity, Short Message Service (SMS) sent via mobile devices has become the most widely used form of data communication in South Africa.

With social media and mobile platforms on the rise in South Africa, popular sites are cropping up to disperse information to the public. Social media website Ushahidi seeks to build a platform to “crowdsource” crisis information. The purpose of Ushahidi is to allow “anyone to submit crisis information through text messaging using a mobile phone, email or web form.” The Ushahidi goal is to “create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.”

The website has been used to track reports of violence, send updates regarding major crisis activity, information on the general elections, and the communication of updates and information on health crises like Swine Flu.

Ushahidi is currently working to revamp their system to “create a platform that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web – and map them.”

Over the past year our globe has been plagues by various crises – terror attacks, war, heath concerns, treacherous weather, etc – and social media has been able to provide an open outlet to affected citizens to inform the world as to what is going on. This type of crisis communication has changed how our world becomes informed and updated on major events. Ushahidi provides a service to South Africans that engage citizens to communicate during a crisis to inform and be informed. Because so many South Africans have SMS capabilities, this service can reach many people, and very easily.

The future of Ushahidi looks bright – with proposed innovations to include mapping and visualization, this service will become duly important to users, especially during a time of crisis. Citizen Journalists coupled with other South African media outlets can use this platform as a means of coherent crisis communication.

For investors and corporations still hesitant to occupy space in South Africa due to continued socio-political unrest, this tool will serve to provide transparency to the public, from the public regarding events and critical information. This tool will also serve as a platform enabling citizens to become journalists and engage in social networking for the betterment of their society.


3 Responses to Crisis Meet Citizen Journalists, Citizen Journalists Meet Ushahidi

  1. Nice post about the potential uses for Ushahidi and how it is already changing the landscape of online news. You are right to relate it’s power to something of a cross between SMS and the socialization of news. It is one of the stronger signs in the South African market that media has fundamentally changed and despite the challenges the culture has, these changes will likly continue to shape the media market in South Africa moving forward. (4)

  2. Gregg Rapaport says:

    SMS crowdsourcing platforms are excellent for public health surveillance in remote areas, as you point out.
    Check out InSTEDD GeoChat, which enables “self-organizing group communications in the developing world” through SMS location-based alerts: .

  3. jtitus15 says:

    I enjoyed this post. Whenever I get into discussions with my friends who brush off social media as useless or a waste of time I point to examples like this. I think you are spot on when you say talk about how social media used for crisis communications has changed our world and they way we received information. I know how it as impacted me but it is interesting to see how the rest of the world is adapting and using SM tools.

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