I use Twitter a lot in Afghanistan. Hear a big explosion and want to find out what and where it was? Twitter has answers first. Expat and Afghan journalists alike send out messages and queries, and the stream of information following #afghanistan or #kabul is quite substantial. A lot of information that I wouldn’t find on traditional media sources, I can find links to on Twitter. Three years ago I was woken by something. Earthquake? Explosion? I didn’t know. 10 minutes later on Twitter, confirmation of earthquake. 15 minutes later, a map showing where the epicenter hit and where aftershocks had rippled out to.
The Taliban even have a Twitter account.
The key is the ability quickly sift through the bullshit, misinformation, and mindless prattle, and to remember that just because someone says so, doesn’t mean its true. Citizen reporting can lead to group think and endless retweeting of information that isn’t true. I’ve seen it first hand with photos I’ve taken that have be reposted by someone else with inaccurate information, if not outright lies. But as with all social media, it has its flaws and also its benefits. Especially in countries like Afghanistan, where everyone has a cell phone.
Today, this tweet came through my feed:
As we are 6 days out from the run off elections in Afghanistan, and yesterday’s attack on Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah reminds us that road side bombs and suicide bombers are determined to create fear and suppress voter turnout, photos and posts like this one are important tools in citizen led security.
It reminded me of old-school neighborhood watch signs I’d see posted around residential neighborhoods in North Dakota when I was growing up. This was before entire areas of towns became covered in CCTV cameras and other big brother style surveillance. The idea was that it was up to all of us, as community members and citizens to keep an eye out for each other. See something disturbing? Let someone know.
In a country like Afghanistan, and a city like Kabul, where the ring of steel can only be partially effective if you operate on random stoppages and half hearted searches, security is even more dependent upon a strong community watch. Twitter is one potential way to make it easier to crowd source security and share in real time unusual behavior, suspicious cars, and street violence. Structured correctly with a strong communications platform and community outreach, twitter could also be an amazing tool for gender violence and street harassment. Of course it only works if others are playing, and more importantly, if police and security forces are watching and are engaged. Neighborhood watch campaigns or street harassment campaigns could find a valuable tool in Twitter if developed and used correctly.