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A Tactic for Using Mobile Phones in Citizen Media and Journalism

Citizen journalism is as complex to define as culture itself. For human rights activist who use social media, mobile devices, and digital technology for social change, it is our civil duty to properly gather, transmit, and report information, while maintaining quality ethical standards.

The following is a suggestion for using mobile and digital technology, inclusive of the first of a four series webinar facilitated by Ms. Nancy Pearson, trainer of human rights advocates in repressive regime contexts. The theme follows defined preventative methods in the exploration of tested tactics for preventing human rights abuse. This is an idea for reporting systems and information exchange tactics by uploading information to a secure outside-source server monitored by third party humanitarian agencies or NGO's.

Citizens cultivating change can upload their statuses, photos, etc. to Facebook or other social media sites, particularly sites hosted by sponsor organizations that provide private profile journals. In contrast to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, where early adopters are often the wealthiest and most technologically advanced users, the developers at Celly engage the poorest and least privileged citizens, empowering them with a service based on SMS that helps insure access to news and information, free speech, and the power of virtual assembly.

Though origianlly launched in the U.S., Celly's goal is that their services and technology becomes available worldwide as a service that profoundly enhances any mobile phone (featurephones and smartphones) with vital group communication and information sharing capabilities. In their design, group communication is essential for a continuum of activities that span personal, public, and business concerns—from text messaging loved ones to disaster relief management, 911/amber alerting, election monitoring, crop price dissemination, weather forecast distribution, and political activism.

Executives at Celly hope that their tool becomes a viral method for citizen journalism and serve as an outlet for free speech voices. According to their latest update, people who gather in groups such as activists and event goers can create cells as a convenient way to coordinate participation and archive group meetings, events, and communication. Citizens can aggregate cells into a live “newspaper”—e.g., readers can subscribe to cells like @news, @weather, and @911 filtered by time and location radius for their neighborhood/village. Citizen journalists can then report news anytime from anyplace by posting status reports to @news cells. By providing an accessible newswire channel service for the masses, Celly can narrow the digital information divide giving disenfranchised people a bigger voice in local, city, state, national, and global issues.

Such strategies serve as a transparent means of getting critical information into the hands of people who can prevent abuse, including local and international support systems. Immediately after transmission or upload of any information, all texts, photos, and posts should be deleted from the mobile device in order to ensure the safety of the human rights practitioners.

The development of mobile applications would allow government, citizen groups, and NGO's to create customized information ports that will constantly run in the background of smart phone applications as an added security precaution. For accessibility purposes, a widget shortcut will appear on the homepage of the smart phone touchscreen. Updates in news, strategies, policy, and government and agency tactics will appear as headlines (TABS- for additional information such as contact, or emergency concerns) on both the phone app and the website home page.

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