Using Mobile Phones for Action

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, November 28, 2007 to Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Mobile technology is being used by citizens all over the world as the most affordable and massively adopted piece of technology. How can we harness this technology for advancing human rights and civil society participation? This dialogue is a space to share and discuss many ideas for "Using Mobile Phones for Action."

Thank you for joining New Tactics community for our conversation Using Mobile Phones for Action from November 28 to December 4, 2007.  

Citizens worldwide use mobile technology; it is affordable and widely adopted.  This conversation reflects on the question: How can we harness this technology for advancing human rights and civil society participation?  Human rights advocates and participants discuss how to mobile phones can advance human rights.  

Tactical Examples Shared in the Conversation:

  • Africa Interactive’s voice of media project encourages citizen media to hold the government accountable on issues of governance, human rights and the very future of a peaceful transition in Kenya and Africa in general.
  • Otpor! Serbian student movement used mobile phones to create their youth network and discovered creative ways to call people to police stations for “Plan B” demonstrations when people had been arrested during the first demonstration.
  • Mobile phones were used in citizen election monitoring in Nigeria (2007) and bloggers circumvented government restrictions using SMS in Pakistan (2007).
  • A Philippines migrant NGO activated an SMS based system to enable the overseas filipino workers (OFW) in distress to report their distressed cases and facilitate assistance by concerned government agencies and partner migrant rights groups in the Philippines and abroad.  
  • Interaction Belfast used mobile phones to create a network of communication that can stop violence before it escalates between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland.  
  • Amnesty International-Netherlands uses mobile phones to engage the youth and raise awareness about torture.  


Mobile phones are a powerful tool for human rights.  They are an up and coming technology globally.  For the developing world, mobile phones reach across all populations and provide a means of exchanging information at a low cost. A participant reflects on how mobile phones empower citizens, “Mobile phones are allowing an entirely new audience - civil society in this case - to engage in a process where they have traditionally had no input. It may be less structured or systematic, but it does empower the voting public, and engage them further in the political process in their own countries.”    Participants noted that mobile phones are a part of campaign and communication strategy, “It’s important to remember that a tactical tool is used to move your strategy forward.” However, participants also noted that there can be a disconnect between human rights advocates and technical providers. In addition to acquiring and implementing mobile phone use, a participant highlighted the importance of building relationships and raising awareness.

The participants discussed several mobile phone tactics to collect and broadcast information, highlighting three: citizen journalism and documentation, mobilizing supporters, and monitoring elections.  Citizen journalism and documentation and monitoring elections are examples of how mobile phones can be used to collect information.  The widespread availability and relatively cheap cost of mobile phones enables citizen journalism, allowing everyday citizens to capture human rights violations, catastrophes, government corruption, etc.  Mobile phones can give agency to traditionally marginalized populations, such as the rural areas of developing countries.  These populations can use mobile phones to document and share human rights abuses that would otherwise go unreported.   Human rights organizations can also encourage citizens to use mobile phones to monitor elections.  Participants shared examples of mobile phones used to monitor elections.  Citizens use mobile phones in election monitoring to text results of polling stations directly, capture any incidents of corruption and work with election officials.  

In addition to citizen journalism, mobile phones can be used to broadcast information by  mobilizing supporters.   Human rights organizations can mobilize supporters for demonstrations and campaigns with mobile phones using SMS texting systems.   One participant writes, “Mobile phones and SMS are clearly a very effective way of mobilising the masses, and to inform them of places to congregate and/or demonstrate.”  Participants discussed how mobile phones can be used for successful SMS campaigns.   Unsolicited messaging campaigns are common and, as one participant writes, “Sometimes, sending unsolicited messages may be the only way, but the benefits of more targeted campaigns are generally much greater.”  However, these campaigns must be crafted in way that avoids the ‘spam’ designation.  Participants suggested sharing the results of texting campaigns is important to engage citizens and retain their attention.  

As they are an emerging technology, mobile phones present several challenges.  Some of the challenges mentioned include concern over privacy, technical glitches, and their role in developing a ‘throwaway mentality.’  Participants seemed concerned with technical glitches in the face of an emergency and preserving anonymity. Technical glitches can prevent the dissemination of information during an emergency, such as the Asian Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina.  Technological providers are currently working on these glitches to prevent system crashes.  On traceability, a participant shared information on how to preserve anonymity, especially in the case of election monitoring or organizing for events and police repression.  The relatively cheap cost and accessibility of mobile phones can foster a ‘throwaway mentality’ which presents challenges for conservation in the developing world.

Shared Resources:

Conversation Leaders

kiwanja's picture
Ken Banks
ellene sana's picture
Ellene Sana
Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines
dokovska's picture
Natasha Dokovska
Journalists for children and women rights and protection of environment in Macedonia - JCWE
largie's picture
Noel Large
Interaction Belfast
Katrin's picture
Katrin Verclas
Evans Wafula's picture
Evans Wafula
Africa Interactive
Discussion topic Replies Last postsort ascending
Closed topic Using Mobile Phones for Action (Page: 1, 2) 98
by chrismishek
Wed, 06/27/2012 - 8:50pm