Saturday, March 18, 2006

Belarus Incident Reveals Darker Side of the Wired World

Text Messages Warn of Violence in Belarus
Jim Heintz, The Associated Press
(Via Houston Chronicle)
March 18, 2006

MINSK, Belarus [MAP] Mysterious cell-phone text messages warning of bloodshed on election day spread in the Belarusian capital on Saturday, a day before presidential voting that the opposition alleges is likely to be fraudulent...

The text messages received by subscribers to the country's largest mobile phone operator Saturday morning said "provocateurs are planning bloodshed" Sunday evening at Oktyabrskaya Square, where protesters are expected to try to gather. "Watch out for your life and health."...


Text mesaging is an increasingly popular form of mobile communication, but most folks don't realize it is perhaps one of the most powerful broadcasting tools in the world.

Mobile text messaging, in most countries, has traditionally been very difficult to monitor - at least that was the case until Bejing cracked down on mobile speech in the aftermath of the Chinese SARS outbreak.

China, however, has a sophisticated information infrastructure; most developing non-democratic societies do not. Mobile devices have been hailed by many as a way to bridge the Digital Divide, to bring electronic communication technologies to people without waiting for costly ground-based systems to be developed.

In Belarus, someone has obviously discovered a new use for text messaging - the ability to spread terror. The method imployed is as old as the human ability to communicate. Spread the word to the right people, and one can start (or end) a revolution with a strategically-placed message. The Roman Army, for example, sent Carthaginian commander Hannibal the severed head of his brother to communicate a Roman victory at the Metaurus River.

But with advances in ICT, communication of strategically-placed information is becoming more readily available to all. While the hope this brings outweighs any fear, there are very real dangers in the Wired World. Right now, some hacker somewhere is designing the next super-virus. Right now, some old lady is sending her bank information to some cyber-profiteer she believes will deposit millions into her account.

There are even fragile old terrorists, hidden in Central Asian caves and living off a dialysis machine, who are able to bring nuclear superpowers to verge of hysteria with video tapes, a few clandestine e-mails to operatives, and a few messages posted on online websites run by sympathizers.

Last night, I watched a group of high school girls sitting around a table in a coffee shop in rural Ohio, each with a mobile phone in hand. Some were downloading pictures of cute boys from friends miles away. One was lying to her parents about her plans for the night while they were out of town. Two were text messaging furiously and gossiping with the the rest of the girls at the table simultaneously.

At the same time, thousands of miles away, on the other side of the world, someone in Belarus was also furiously texting as well. And they weren't gossiping about Ashlee Simpson or cute boys or about how some girl in gym class dressed like a slut to get boys to look at her.

In Minsk, there was a message someone wanted to send, something meant to spread fear and to incite violence. On the other side of the world, on the dawn of what is expected to be a farce of an election, nobody is worrying about Ashlee Simpson's love life.

Ashlee Simpson scares no one. The people of Belarus have more important things to worry about than what American teens think makes someone cool or not.

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Let said...

I haven't been a teenager in 13 years. If I can't text msg, I have to pick up a phone and I really hate talking on the phone. So ya, I'm pretty prone to texting and I am also afraid of Ashlee Simpson. I'm afraid any of my daughters will think she's a role model and beg me for singing lessons. Although I think she should have begged for some too.

The ZenFo Pro said...

I've never understood the whole text message phenomenon. I'm on my cell so much I barely notice how reliant I've become on it, though.

Imagine how downright terrifying it would be if someone hacked into your provider's system and sent the same Belarusian message to every user in their network?

I wouldn't want Ashlee Simpson to be my kid's role model, either. Probably better than OJ Simpson, though ;)

The Subversive Librarian said...

I don't get text messaging either. Too slow and cumbersome on my phone, anyway. But then I have a lame-o phone.

The ZenFo Pro said...

That's sort of where I come from on texting. I receive them, but I don't really like the whole medium.