As the Arab Spring gave way to ground-breaking democratic elections in Libya and Egypt this year, voters also had a first-ever chance to share their views on the political process. And with mobile penetration close to 100% in both countries, cell phones quickly emerged as a key tool for amplifying local voices. Souktel and Al Jazeera TV took the lead in leveraging this trend–launching new mobile services that empowered voters to have their say about the elections as they unfolded.
In early July, the partners rolled out a new campaign called Libya Speaks, which sent out text messages to citizens across the country asking if they planned on taking part in the elections, and why. More than 5,000 Libyan mobile users were polled; real-time SMS responses were then mapped on the news network’s website, to give audiences a clear picture of local community views.
The SMS feedback was candid, and revealed a wide spectrum of opinions: “No, I won’t vote,” responded a participant in Tripoli. Meanwhile, voter Abdul Aziz from Tobruq texted: “Surely I will take part [in the elections]. I’m hoping security and freedom will be achieved”.
“The goal of this campaign is to give a voice to communities who haven’t previously had a way to share their views,” says Souktel CEO Jacob Korenblum. “In North America or Europe, people are almost over-inundated with opportunities to post, tweet, or blog their perspectives on an issue. In Libya, though, this was the first time anyone had asked ‘average citizens’ what they actually thought about the vote. Facilitating this kind of debate is key to building a strong civil society”.
Souktel’s work with Al Jazeera builds on previous mobile polling successes: Last year, the partners joined forces with “crowd-mapping” leader Ushahidi to carry out a similar campaign in the Horn of Africa. Previously, the three organizations worked together to create the first-ever SMS citizen reporting initiative during the 2009 conflict in Gaza.