Tag Archive for 'Sarcasm'

Islam and Online Aid & Development Discourse

Recently, a Muslim reminded me of verse 49:11 from the Qu’ran. For most of you reading this, and most likely unfamiliar with that verse, here’s what it says:

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

The Qu’ran, for many Muslims, is considered to be the direct word of God. Not “divinely inspired” like the Bible – but the actual direct word-for-word message from God. As such, it’s considered perfect and constitutes a moral code by which all Muslims must adhere to.

As I’ve talked about before, there is a great deal of distrust and even hatred towards the aid industry and NGOs in Bangladesh (a country where the population is about 90% Muslim). I’ve also talked about how I’ve been trying to use my ethnicity and social media to bridge this gap. But part of this problem also stems from how those in the aid industry talk about aid.

Even in an open and democratic platform like the internet, aid discussions tend to suffer from groupthink and exclude minority voices. This exclusion can happen simply because of the snark, sarcasm, and personal attacks that are frequently thrown around in online aid conversations.

Blog post from a prominent aid blogger (working at a major International NGO). Post uses the word "douchenozzle" five times and ends the post with "Total. F-cking. Douche. Nozzle."

The definition of "douchenozzle" (as provided by UrbanDictionary.com)

I try to keep this blog G-rated, so I won’t provide more examples than what you can see in the above screenshots. But, comments like this are by no means an outlier. I have screenshots of aid bloggers using words and/or vulgar euphemisms for words like this, this and this on a myriad of topics, posts, and tweets. What makes it worse is that such words are actually condoned or, sometimes, applauded.

Comments left by other aid bloggers to the above cited blog post.

Complements were also sent via Twitter...

As the digital divide is being bridged, more of the world’s poor will be able to observe these online conversations. Unless organizations develop an internal professional code of conduct for their aid workers who use social media, this could be the next great liability for NGOs. Posting anonymously may not shield NGOs. Aid workers aren’t l33t haxxors and no one stays anonymous forever.

Many Bangladeshis already tell me that the aid industry and INGOs don’t reflect them, their values, or their way of doing things. If this tone is condoned and applauded by those working to help the poor…. then they may be right.

How Come the Poor Can’t Video Blog? Thoughts on the Digital Divide

This year I’ve been talking a lot about the “Digital Divide”. But what is that? And why does it matter?

The “Digital Divide” is basically a term to describe the technological gap which prevents the poorest of the world’s poor from participating in global online conversations that are occurring on the internet.

This is important because what we are doing on the internet is starting to have the power to shape our politics, our governments, our economies, and our own personal priorities, opinions, and tastes.

If the poorest of the poor are excluded from these global conversations, we can only use the internet to make a difference for the poor instead of using the internet to make a difference with the poor.

Aid bloggers sometimes deride photos like this one as "development and technology porn". From personal experience, villagers would rather you take their photos showing them fascinated at being connected than photos selected to show them crying, emaciated, and with flies on their faces. As I've written about before, what matters the most is making sure people are portrayed as they wish to be portrayed.

This is no more clear and apparent when it comes to international aid and development. Everyone from activists, aid professionals, and aid pundits are shaping how the poorest of the poor are served.

These aid discussions – ranging from polite and professional to snarky and snide – are shaping policies and practices on what is (and isn’t) “good aid”. But, due to the digital divide, the poor don’t have a say in this online discourse.

Although I’m no aid expert, I believe there are three things that are needed for the poorest of the poor to be brought into global conversations that directly affect them:

  1. Charity can’t solve this problem alone: The infrastructure needed to connect low income and remote communities must be laid by either governments or (more realistically) for-profit companies. Similarly, devices that can plug into this infrastructure (like cellphones and low cost PCs) need to be made more affordable. This isn’t about dumping stuff on the poor, but rather making it a viable consumer choice.
  2. There needs to be an incentive to get connected: Charities and NGOs will need to be a big part of this by giving developing communities a greater say and control in how they receive assistance. I believe using technology to connect donors and recipients together will go a long way to make this less about aid from an institution and more about people on opposite sides of the digital divide helping each other. Why does that even matter? As I’ve talked about before, the distinction between institutions and people can be important in many cultures and contexts.
  3. Giving an IP address isn’t enough: Just because someone can participate in a global online conversation, doesn’t mean they will. For example, I’ve already written about how conservative Muslims in developing countries will most likely avoid online aid blogger discussions. This is because the snark, sarcasm, and personal attacks occasionally thrown around in that space directly contradict some interpretations on Islamic Codes of Conduct. I believe digital intermediaries – or bridge-makers – can go a long way to foster conversations (and impacts) that are inclusive and free of unintentional ethnocentrism.

This is basically what talked about when I – thanks to you guys – got the opportunity to go to the World Economic Forum. It’s also something I continually talk about whenever I get the chance.

For example, with the United Nations running a contest to select a set of UN Citizen Ambassadors, I submitted this video talking about the need to bridge the digital divide:

And, while attending the United Nations Foundations’ Social Good Summit, I was asked by Ericsson to pose a question starting with “How Come?”. It was for this campaign they are running. I decided to ask “How Come the Poor Can’t Video Blog?”:

The bottom-line (and perhaps a plus): once the poor start speaking for themselves and we start using the internet to make a difference with them instead of for them, the sooner people like me will have to shut up :)