Phone messaging promotes peace, love and understanding

Well, not really. The recent post-election violence in Kenya was, as it turns out, aided by the humble SMS message: Blasts of thousands of messages as well as simple friend-to-friend forwards carried incitements to murder--which were acted upon on a large scale.

Well, not really. The recent post-election violence in Kenya was, as it turns out, aided by the humble SMS message: Blasts of thousands of messages as well as simple friend-to-friend forwards carried incitements to murder--which were acted upon on a large scale. In response, the local telco broadcast several messages of rational moderation, apparently on the theory that "The cure for hate speech is more speech," as the popular saying has it.

So What?

SMS's ability to spontaneously mobilize masses of people has to date been fairly benign, even beneficent: Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution leaps to mind. Kenya represents a new chapter in our understanding of its power, however. SMS is no respecter of motives, and will cheerfully abet any grass roots movement, whatever its goals.

Geeks and others (me included) have tended to assume that the spread of information technology is an unalloyed good. So who knew that a tool this cool could be used for evil? This could be the beginning of the geeks' (and my) techno-political education: We may be forced to gain a more nuanced understanding of the technologies we love so well.