Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan ordered access to Twitter to be cut off for citizens in the early hours of Friday, March 21st. The shutdown came just a few hours after Erdogan publically threatened to cut off access to the social media platform, calling it a ‘scourge’ and claiming it is being used against him by his political enemies.

Erdogan is currently embroiled in a political scandal which was furthered when an audio clip was anonymously released via Twitter. The tweet contained a link that implicated widespread corruption in Erdogan’s administration. Users that attempted to access Twitter were redirected to a webpage with a statement from the telecommunications regulator in Turkey that cited several court orders for the reason the site was blocked. The court orders from the government asking Twitter to remove the tweets with the incriminating audio clips have gone unanswered by the company.

Twitter, a website widely used by celebrities, also found another use during the Arab Spring. Activists and protestors utilized the social media platform to spread up- to- the- minute information to the world. Twitter provided people who may not have had a voice through official channels or media with a way to tell their story about what was happening in their country. Twitter was used in Turkey last year to spread the word about protests against the government which ended in Erdogan requesting that Twitter establish an office in the country so the company can respond more quickly to the government’s requests. That request also went unanswered.

Twitter is only the one of the social media platforms that the Turkish government has bumped heads with. Facebook, Google and YouTube have all been criticized by Erdogan for their content that is unflattering to him. He has also threatened to extend the ban to these companies and others unless they comply with requests from the Turkish government. With Prime Minister Erdogan threatening to shut down access to these companies ‘no matter what the international community thinks’ it sets up a potentially troubling situation blocking the access for the citizens of Turkey during a time of political unrest.

This situation will continue to evolve in the coming weeks. Whether or not other social media websites will go down or if Twitter will come back online in Turkey remains to be seen. Erdogan seems eager to show power in the face of the international community saying, “The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is.”

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: NPR, Haaretz
Photo: Amnesty

Last month, we talked about the #SelfiePolice project started by young college students who found an innovative way to turn the traditionally selflish “selfie” into a force for social good. Turning selfishness into selflessness has now also been embraced as a strategy by MasterCard and the World Food Programme (WFP), through the “Selfless Selfie Campaign.”

The Selfless Selfie Campaign was unleashed this year at the Mobile World Congress, where attendees were encouraged to stop by the MasterCard booth, take a selfie and tweet about it. For each selfie taken, MasterCard pledged to donate a month of school meals for a hungry child through the WFP.

The campaign did not end there. It found itself this week taking on “one of the hottest and most well-known festivals in the world,” South by South West (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. MasterCard donated $5 for every selfie taken at the festival and tweeted with the hashtag #dogood. Again, for each selfie tagged, MasterCard pledged to donate $5 to provide a month of school meals for a hungry child through a WFP program.

MasterCard and the WFP formed a global partnership in 2012, with the goal of delivering “ground-breaking technology to meet the needs of the world’s hungry and vulnerable populations in order to help end world hunger.” According to Hunter Biden, the Board Chair of the WFP USA, “66 million students across the developing world go to school hungry every day.” MasterCard and the WFP believe that a new approach to help these children lies in the power of technology to unlock innovation in food assistance.

One way to utilize the power of technology is through social media platforms. “Leveraging technology to do good is important to us at MasterCard,” said Ann Cairns, MasterCard President International Markets.

Twitter, in particular, has some staggering statistics that make it a valuable tool for corporations, non-profits, and activists worldwide to spread their message to millions:

  1.  There are now at least 230 million active users on Twitter globally, with over 100 million daily active users
  2. More than 5,000 tweets are tweeted every second
  3.  3 million websites integrate with Twitter.

Twitter and other social media sites offer a unique platform that connect millions of people, affording them opportunities to influence change and spark social justice movements in ways that were unimaginable before.

– Rifk Ebeid

Photo: Mastercard
Amazon, Stay Classy, News Room

Social media is proving itself once again a vital medium for advocacy.  In a movement reminiscent of the 2011 Arab Spring, the younger generation of Lebanon is organizing on Twitter around the mantra #notamartyr. The online phenomenon was sparked by the death of 16-year-old Mohammad Chaar, a bystander in Beirut.

The December 26, 2013 explosion was targeting former Lebanese ambassador to the United States, Mohamad Chatah. It killed Chaar instead, who was hanging out with friends nearby. The press and government authorities immediately transformed him into a figure of patriotic martyrdom, as is customary in such cases.

According to the subsequent outcries from Lebanese activists, the glorification of martyrs is a problem in their culture and disrespectful to Chaar’s memory. They are adamant that he was a victim, and not a martyr. #Notamartyr is a promotion of pacifism and the choice of life. It also demands that the Lebanese government to be held accountable for violent harms perpetrated against their citizens.

Recent times in Lebanon, and especially in the capital city of Beirut, have seen a lot this type of martyrdom. The country still feels a degree of political and economic instability in the wake of their 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990. Violent spillover and ethnic tension from their neighbor Syria has significantly increased this. Beirut has seen six fatal bombings in the past six months, averaging one per month.

Violence has only resulted in breeding further problems for Lebanon, which is quickly declining into an economic crisis. Limited job opportunities have forced more and more Lebanese youth to reluctantly leave their home country.

The #notamartyr movement has now developed into a means of voicing a wide range of dissatisfaction, along with resolutions for the future. Poverty, corruption and human rights violations are just a few topics highlighted. It is also consciously challenging negative media misrepresentations of Lebanese culture.

As the accompanying Facebook group states, “We can no longer desensitize ourselves to the constant horror of life in Lebanon. We refuse to become martyrs. We refuse to remain victims. We refuse to die a collateral death.”

Tweets from Lebanese activists:

@LebaneseVoices: I’m tired of head counting my family every other week to check if they have survived explosions #notamartyr #انا_مش_شهيد #لبنان #Lebanon

@Akananmariam: I want my hijab to represent my faith and my love of peace, not my political affiliation or party.

@Safran3: I want to raise my kids in Lebanon #notamartyr #lebanon

@Hamedleila: I would like to hold my boyfriend’s hand without being afraid of the police #notamartyr

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN
Photo: Huffington Post

global_poverty_nepal #GlobalPOV
Everyone can help end global poverty, even Twitter. #GlobalPOV was created by the Blum Center for Developing Economies at University of California, Berkeley. The Global Poverty Project started by students working with the Blum Center thought of using a hashtag to trend topics surrounding global poverty. The students wanted to get people thinking, reading, and writing about concepts related to global poverty and what causes it as well as how it can be resolved.

Some hashtags are just fact or comments about the world’s poor. Some topics are news headlines about natural disasters and relief efforts across the globe. They include links to charities and organizations that are providing aid to victims of the disaster, and ways everyone can contribute.

#GlobalPOV can follow a post about an article detailing events in other countries related to politics and foreign aid. One tweet talks about social entrepreneurship ending global poverty with a link to Forbes Magazine cover photo of Bono and Bill Gates, two high profile charity donors. Another tweet links a YouTube video that describes how people become dependent on welfare in different societies.

The great thing about Twitter is that using the #GlobalPov phrase in the search bar connects audiences to a wealth of links and information that they can browse on their own time.

The best part of the Global Poverty Project, besides the impact it makes on the lives of poverty victims, is the convenience of spreading the word. One button can share the tweet with potential hundreds of followers. No one has to tediously search through different websites for the information since it is directly accessed via the link.

Richard C. Blum is the founder of the Blum Center at Berkeley. He is also the founder of the American Himalayan Foundation that helps provide food and education to people living in the Himalayas. Mister Bloom serves as a board member today and as the Honorary Consul of Nepal. His dream to help people has touched people all across the world. Starting the Blum Center at Berkeley University was intended as a place to bring together people of all different experiences and backgrounds to help those struggling with poverty.

Brainstorming, education, business, technology, and more are subjects that students working at the Blum Center use to help solve poverty across the globe. Their Global Poverty Project continues to grow with the hashtag #GlobalPOV, which can also be read as Global Point-of-View. This project challenges readers to act against widespread misconception and become educated about the issues facing people today.

Anyone can log onto right now and tweet about global poverty, or search for the hashtag and start reading.

Kaitlin Sutherby

Photo: AIIA
Himalayan Foundation, Wall Street Journal

Syrians have recently become the highest population of refugees on the planet at nearly 2.4 million people strong. The UN has, in fact, labeled the Syrian refugee crisis as “the greatest humanitarian crisis in modern history.” However, media throughout the world is strangely quiet about their monumental struggle.

In nearly every host country that Syrian refugees have been forced to flee into, they have been met with indifference, hatred or open hostility. Many have even chosen to go back to their Syrian homeland despite the overwhelming violence, deciding it best, if die they must, to die in their homeland. The international community has also been negligent to their needs while the aid that is being given lags far behind what the dire situation calls for.

This is only part of their plight, so why is there such silence in the media considering the scale of the issue? A simple reason may be reflective of the refugees’ inability to articulate for themselves; according to Nancy Baron, a UN psychologist who provides mental health to Syrian refugees in Egypt, “the Syrians don’t have a voice.”

Rattled by warfare and hostility in a foreign land, Syrian refugees are doing their best simply to stay alive. Most find it hard to talk about what they have been through, and even if they did want to talk, few (if any) are willing to listen. The international community seems to still be trying to figure out exactly what is going on in Syria. Most are eager for the peace talks scheduled for January 22 to begin both as a respite from the civil warfare as well as for a chance to hear both sides of the story and garner a better picture of the situation.

Furthermore, a great deal of the problem with attaining media coverage involves the lack of proper reportage. This dearth is caused by several issues, not least of which is the difficulty of finding a ‘fixer,’ a person who can provide interviewees, translations and safe passages to areas of interest. Due to this scarcity, many media outlets are forced to use the same fixers, and therefore have less to report, leading to empty and sometimes sensationalized news stories.

Moreover, if international media continues to be reticent in interceding on behalf of the Syrians, media outlets within host countries may become anxious to condemn the new Syrian presence. In Egypt, for example, TV presenters affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood have accused Syrians of undermining their country’s well-being and have threatened violence upon the refugees.

Compelling stories have helped the United States and other countries rally on behalf of refugees in the past. There are stories waiting to be told, stories that need to be told. Hopefully, for the sake of millions of innocent lives, they will be.

– Jordan Schunk

Sources: FIDH, The Interpreter, Reuters
Photo: Religious Action Center

Money is not the only way to contribute to charities, although it is arguably the most effective – unless you are a celebrity. Apparently just being associated with a charity is enough to boost donations by $100,000 per year. Research from the Rutgers’s Business School found charities with celebrity endorsements received a 1.4 percent increase in donations over charities that were not associated with stars.

In that respect, the popular celebrity news website, The Daily Beast, found out who the most charitable celebrities were in regards to lending out their name and fame. Using an in depth survey with forty-eight characteristics via E-poll market research, a list was created with the top celebrities in the charitable running. The list was narrowed after secondary research on, a site that tracks how many charities celebrities are actually supporting. Using Traackr to record the number of actual hits on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and personal blogs, the list was further weighted to reflect the celebrities’ personal effort put into promoting their respective organizations.

Elton John was at the top of the list with support towards a whopping forty-eight charities. Furthermore, his foundation to help treat AIDS victims, Elton John Aids Foundation, is one of his personally founded charities. Though it may be due to the passing of many of Elton’s close friends of because of AIDS/HIV, he hosts enormous galas open to his multitude of famous friends as fundraisers for his organization.

Second on the list is Angelina Jolie, recognized worldwide for her long list of humanitarian efforts. She has visited various nations such as Tanzania, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Egypt and Costa Rica, even during times of conflict and war. Taking a hands on approach, she has provided care and aid to refugees in the aftermath of natural disasters, apartheid, oppression and more. She is the founder of the Maddox Jolie-Pitt, named after her first adopted Cambodian son, an organization which serves to implement sustainable community improvement policies for women and children in Cambodia. Angelina and Brad Pitt sold the first images of their newborn twins to People and Hello! Magazines for $14 million, utilizing the entire sum of money for the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Following Angelina on the top 25 list is Bono, the incredible U2 front man, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres. Some of the most famous stars on television and film are giving huge chunks of their success away to help others, thus becoming role models in the world of charity and fundraising. It is simultaneously inspiring and humbling to recognize that people have the ability to help those in need no matter how famous, wealthy or well off we are in their own lives. Celebrities have a name and a face but their actions are worth so much more than that, and anyone can take action against global poverty.

Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: Marie Claire, The Daily Beast, Look to the Stars

syria rebels
Raging since early 2011, the civil war in Syria has left many wondering who will obtain the reins of power in the war torn nation. Will the rebel forces topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime, creating a power vacuum? Or will Assad maintain control?

These questions lie at the heart of what policymakers consider when sending aid to rebel forces who have managed to continue their three year war against the Assad regime with minimal support from the West.

One of the questions that has been most pertinent to American policymakers is who exactly are the rebels and to what extent are there Islamist extremists in their ranks.

Politifact points out politicians on both sides of the aisle, advocating both for and against aid to the Syrian rebels, who use questionable sources to justify the numbers of radical or moderate elements among the rebel forces.

For example, Senator John McCain has been a vocal proponent of aid to the rebels and has stated that close to 70 percent of the rebels are still moderate. When pressed on his certainty of where the rebels stand, McCain simply stated he visited the war torn country and through his visit, gained an understanding as to the leanings of the rebel forces.

Others such as IHS Jane’s, a British intelligence analysis agency, have estimated the radical element composes half of the 100,000 opposition fighters. Their conclusion is based off interviews and intelligence estimates that are extremely difficult to confirm.

Many have turned to social media to examine the political leanings of the rebels.

Caerus, a strategy firm that examines Syrian governance for government clients, examines major internet platforms such as YouTube to glean data about the rebels. They claim through examining social media, very reliable data can be constructed giving a better understanding of the ideological makeup of opposition fighters.

For example, the Free Syrian Army has a hefty YouTube footprint of over seven YouTube channels. Other rebel groups are active Facebook and Twitter users, posting propaganda sympathetic to their cause.

Unfortunately, David Kilcullen, CEO of Caerus, as well as many government officials have concluded that moderate opposition forces are losing influence to radical Islamist sects within the rebel forces.

The perception of Islamist elements among the rebels gaining ground has led some officials to suggest that Assad staying in power would be the best outcome for the protracted civil war. The Christian Science Monitor quotes Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Damascus, predicting Assad’s eventual victory in Syria.

He states, “And do we really want the alternative–a major country in the heart of the Arab world in the hands of Al-Qaeda?”

The different factions of moderates versus Islamist hardliners have contributed to the propagation of the Assad regime. Their incoordination among each other has prevented a cohesive strategy from forming against Assad.  And the radicalization of many forces has blocked the flow of foreign aid from countries unwilling to potentially support Al-Qaeda linked forces.

While many officials are now leaning toward the continuation of the Assad regime as the best outcome for the war, others have argued that the brutal tactics perpetrated by the regime was the main cause for their radicalization in the first place, and the failure by the west to adequately fund the rebel forces have led them toward radical ideals in an attempt to secure funding from wealthy Arab nations.

Now close to three years old, the Syrian conflict shows no signs of letting up and rebel groups no closer to toppling the Assad regime.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, Politifact

Terkura Unongo, a ninth grade student at Nigeria’s Hillcrest Secondary School, is the creator of Imongo, a social network that facilitates communication among people all over the globe. Imongo, which means “gathering” in the language of Nigeria’s Tiv tribe, allows its members to create profiles, chat with others, catch up with the latest news, and share pictures, videos and music.

Since its conception in February of 2012, Imongo has attained over 3,900 members from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and other areas in the Middle East, China and the United States.

Terkura’s interest in the Internet and programming stemmed from his use of Facebook. As he interacted with friends and played games online, he began to wonder what was “fueling this thing from behind”. His curiosity inspired him to learn HTML and other programming languages, eventually giving birth to Imongo. The process of designing Imongo demanded 10 to 16 hours of writing code per day, months of publicizing and over 500,000 Nigerian Naira ($3,120.13 USD) in costs.

In the future, Tekura hopes that Imongo will become a household name and expand. Plans are already in place for Imongo to develop interactive chat rooms, a marketplace, a gaming platform and more.

In today’s world where social media and websites have the ability to rapidly mobilize thousands of people, Imongo has the potential to become a source of political and social organization in Africa.

Lienna Feleke-Eshete

Sources: allAfrica, The Nation
Photo: Greenbiro

Social Media Use Afghanistan
On September 22 and 23, Afghanistan hosted its first-ever social media summit, catalyzing the growing prevalence of Internet and social media sites as tools for democratic change. Sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, the summit was held at the American University in the country’s capital, Kabul, and welcomed more than 200 active Twitter and Facebook users.

The delegates featured at the summit included technology experts, Internet entrepreneurs, government leaders, authors, and NGO workers. The panel held discussions concerning how the increasing prevalence of the internet in Afghanistan is making an impact on traditional society.

With 65 percent of the Afghan population under 25 years of age, and an important presidential election coming up in 2014, now is an opportune time for Afghan youths to express their opinions on their nation’s issues on the Internet. Despite the popularity of social media, getting Internet access in Afghanistan is not an easy task. In fact, according to a USAID-funded study, conducted by independent technology research consultant Javid Hamdard, only 7.7 percent of the Afghan population can access the Internet – whether it is through mobile phones or computers.

Additionally, about 75 percent of the population resides in rural areas with little to no access to electricity let alone computers or the Internet. According to the UN, only an estimated 41 percent of Afghans have access to a reliable source of electricity. Therefore, charging electronic and mobile devices presents another problem for the population.

The high cost of Internet was previously an obstacle, but a World Bank initiative to implement the use of fiber-optic cables has helped to make internet more affordable in Afghanistan. The World Bank project is about 65 percent complete, but has been delayed due to insurgent activities in the eastern and southern areas of the country.

Afghanistan’s traditionally conservative society poses a problem to the growing prevalence of social media sites. For instance, the strict restrictions for women, like going to work or school, may cause issues as social media connects them to male users. According to Facebook, ten percent of users in Afghanistan are women. However, they often use a pseudonym and do not upload pictures of themselves or their female friends on these social networking sites.

Nonetheless, many see social media as a way for the population to engage itself in public affairs. Numerous presidential candidates are on Facebook and Twitter, which are the two most used social media websites in Afghanistan. This is especially vital to get Afghan youths engaged, seeing that they are the largest voting group.

The Taliban has even taken to social media. It has issued statements and claimed responsibility for attacks via their Twitter account—a rather different side of them compared to their ruthless six-year rule where they forbade television and use of most technology.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: Business Insider, The Guardian

Like many young men living in Kenya, Julius Cheruiyot was forced to drop out of school at the age of 16 to work on his father’s farm. Today, Cheruiyot continues to farm, but because of social media, he can now afford to educate and feed his three children.

Julius Cheruiyot belongs to a growing number of farmers who use Young Volunteers for the Environment’s social media to track and adapt to climate change. With the advice of the YVE’s Facebook page, Cheruiyot knows when the best time is to plant his crops and when he should take certain actions to avoid losses.

Many farmers like Cheruiyot have joined YVE in recent years after being recruited at agricultural exhibitions and over the Internet.

YVE is the Kenyan division of a pan-African organization that was founded in Togo in 2011. The group seeks to address declining agricultural yields, which adds to food insecurity and poverty in Africa.

In recent years, changing weather patterns in Kenya and other areas of eastern Africa have negatively affected the majority of farmers. Over the past decade, erratic rainfall patterns and temperature fluctuations have resulted in low yields and failed harvests for many farmers.

The Kenyan Rift Valley, known as the country’s breadbasket, is a major site for maize and dairy farming, but planting maize in the region has become increasingly difficult due to irregular rainfall and outbreaks of pest-borne diseases. YVE gives farmers advice about the types of plants they should crop in certain weather patterns, recommending crops such as millet, wheat, sorghum and potatoes for the current conditions. The organization reports that rotating crops helps to rebalance pH levels of the soil, making it more fertile for future crop cycles.

According to YVE’s President Emmanuel Serem, the organization “engages youth across the country…to make a positive impact in the life of the community by enabling communities to effectively adapt to the effects of a rapidly changing climate.” YVE promotes sustainable practices that help to increase productivity and raises public awareness about rising temperatures and climate change in the region. The organization also aims to correct misinformation about climate change, which has been attributed to causes such as divine retribution.

Today, YVE has more than 900 followers on Facebook who can access information published on the site and discuss farming techniques. YVE capitalizes on the increased usage of social media by young Kenyans to reach those affected by climate change. While YVE has amassed a large following, Serem admits that farmers who lack access to the Internet or who are unable to read cannot access its services.

Regardless of the difficulties farmers may face in utilizing social media, YVE has great potential to reach the eight out of ten people in the region who are farmers, offering a cheap and effective opportunity to increase food security and reduce poverty.

– Katie Bandera

Sources: Trust, Climate Network, ONG JVE