Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Text messages help fuel Philippine crisis

Some mobile owners from Philippines received this message: --Beep, beep! President about to flee the country. Beep, beep! Hoard groceries before banks collapse. Beep Beep! Troops rumbling into Manila.
Apparently, this is just another disinformation campaign run via the sms channel. It scared many people though . No one seems to know -- or care -- who starts these campaigns or whether they're based on fact. It’s a sort of cell phone version of spam. Anyway they seem harmless. But recent history shows just what a potent force they can be.
In 2001, text messages helped bring hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets for "people power" rallies that forced out Philippine President Joseph Estrada. Texting was also a key tool in mobilizing people for massive anti-Japan protests that turned violent in several major Chinese cities a few months ago.
Now texters are at it again as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo tries to claw her way out of a crisis over allegations she rigged last year's election. The messages have helped heighten the drama, feeding rumors that Arroyo is on the verge of quitting.
Texting is a fast, cheap way to send information that carries the urgency of a phone call. Messages can be forwarded by pushing a few buttons, which makes tracing a source difficult. That's a big plus in places like China where the government tries to throttle the flow of information.
One message circulating in recent days said Arroyo was negotiating a flight into exile. Another warned of an imminent run on the banks that would leave people unable to withdraw money to buy groceries.
[Via Boston]


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