Category Archives: social media

Digital environments and social media

Having recently written a post reflecting on aspects of power relationships and control through digital systems, I just thought that it might be helpful to share the list below of those digital systems and social media that I generally use so that others can know how to interact with me should they wish:

Digital environments that I use for public interaction

  • e-mails – multiple accounts, some integrated through Outlook/Office 365 (mainly formal work-related – contact via Royal Holloway, University of London) and others (mainly private) through Apple Mail. This remains my main mode of digital communication, largely because my e-mail account is one central place where people can send me material they want me to read!
  • WordPress (since 2008, although I began blogging earlier in 2007) – mainly for work-related issues, but also for personal views and opinions – for links to my various blogs see Interestingly, I am now blogging much less than I used to with views in recent years being half of the 30,349 I had in 2011.
  • Zoom – as have so many people during COVID-19, I have come to use Zoom quite extensively for large group meetings as well as personal ones, and it has largely replaced my former use of Skype. I particularly like its ease of use, and the way that it enables me to deliver live presentations through using its background feature.
  • Elgg (open source social networking software) – but sadly this is little used by others, and so I only tend to use it for small work-related groups (and in part as a replacement for Moodle).
  • Slack (sadly bought by Salesforce in December 2020) as a group communication platform – no longer sure how long I will continue to use it.
  • Moodle – the environment we’ve used for various courses at Royal Holloway, University of London and beyond; also where we used to make our ICT4D course materials freely available.
  • Twitter – joined in January 2009 – mainly for sharing information about our research and practice (several different accounts including @unescoict4d and @TEQtogether for research, and @timunwin for personal) – am using it much less than I used to, because the character limit tends to lead to short soundbites that oversimlify issues, and it has become a place dominated by “politically-correct” resonating rhetoric.
  • Facebook – joined in November 2006 – mainly used to share things that interest me, but also use for work-related groups (such as the ICT4D Group created in April 2007 and now with around 5.5K members, and the TEQtogether Group) – I’m again using it much less than I used to, especially since the dreadful new desktop/laptop version was introduced.
  • Microsoft Teams and assorted other Microsoft apps such as Skype for Business and Yammer (social networking; bought by Microsoft in 2012) – the basic environment adopted by Royal Holloway, University of London some time ago (and so I really have to use it to communicate with colleagues there), but also widely used in other enterprises. I find it rather clunky, in much the same way that I also never liked Microsoft’s Sharepoint (launched back in 2001); I still try to use these as little as possible.
  • I’m beginning to use Miro (an online whiteboard) for team work and collaboration.

Environments that I will not use

So, definitely don’t ask me to collaborate with you using the following:

  • Any Google environment (including Cloud, Drive, Chrome) – and especially if I have to sign in with a Google account (I refuse to have one). Exceptionally, I will occasionally use a Google environment providing I don’t have to sign in – but I would prefer to be sent documents in a way that is easier for me, such as by e-mail.
  • WeChat – I may well have to use this one day to be able to communicate in China and with Chinese friends since it is becoming so ubiquitous and essential there, but for the moment I don’t want too many governments having easy access to too much information about me.
  • Sina Weibo – similar reservations to the above, but I am also getting too old to learn to microblog in Chinese.

Environments that I use for private communication

The following are some of the environments that I use for private communication, and will not use for professional purposes (so please don’t ask me, for example, to join a WhatsApp group):

  • WhatsApp – although I almost stopped using it when it was purchased by Facebook. I only use it with family and friends, and most definitely will not use it for public or professional groups (so there is no point in asking me to join a group).
  • Signal – I use this privately because of its security, usability, and open source build – and it’s also free.
  • Instagram – for posting images of things that interest me (I may well soon start to use it to share information about our research and practice, since Instagram is increasingly being used effectively by businesses for this).
  • Dropbox – for sharing large files with friends.
  • Skype – for personal video discussions – although I have used it much less since 2011 when it was purchased by Microsoft.


Filed under digital technologies, ICT4D, social media, Social Networking

On digital happiness

Are digital technologies making people across the world any happier?  I recently posed this question on social media, commenting that I did not think they were, and was challenged by a colleague from Africa who implied that it was obvious that ICTs had increased human happiness in his part of the world.  Whilst I have touched on this issue in my previous work (ICT4D, 2009,  and Reclaiming ICT4D, 2017), I have never really teased out the difficult issues involved in answering such questions, preferring instead to focus mainly on the impact on inequality of economic growth supported by technological innovation , and the differences between development agendas based on absolute and relative definitions of poverty.  It is timely to address this issue in a little more depth.

Defining happiness

Butterfly mediumA large part of the challenge in exploring the relationships between digital technologies and happiness depends on the controversial issue of how happiness is defined.  Philosophers, psychologists, medical doctors, theologians, and even economists have long debated what happiness really is, and each has their own definition.  In psychology, one of the best-known approaches to happiness is Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs, but self-determination theory, free-choice approaches (see some of Inglehart‘s work, as well as Sen’s notions), and positive psycholoy (largely influenced by Seligman) all have much to say about happiness.

In very general terms, happiness is a collective word to describe positive feelings such as success, amusement, gratification and joy.  Many of the difficulties with the word derive from the observation that although we may know when we feel happy or sad, we do not always know the cause of the emotion, and it is not easy to measure it consistently.  Indeed, at the extremes, one person’s happiness might be another person’s sadness.  It is thus perfectly possible that one person playing digital games for six hours on end could feel elated as a result, whilst another could feel suicidal.  This illustrates the well-known view that digital technologies act primarily as an accelerator of things such as economic growth or human emotion.

Digital technologies, international development and happiness

Over the last two decades some work has explicitly explored the interface between  digital technologies, international development and happiness. As noted above, my own work has briefly explored this, as for example has Heeks in his 2012 paper on ICTs and Gross National Happiness.  Both of us, I think independently, were drawn to this important notion coined by the King of Bhutan in 1972, and have highlighted its role in leading Bhutan to measure Gross National Happiness as a key indicator of progress, emphasising that development should be holistic, combining both well-being and economic growth.  This clearly runs counter to the global hegemony on development largely as economic growth, which is enshrined in the MDGs and SDGs, and sees digital technologies as one of the prime drivers of such growth.

There are also now various new initiatives that are explicitly exploring the interface between digital technologies and happiness.  One of the most interesting of these is the University of Oslo TIK Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture’s HAPPY project focusing on Responsible innovation and happiness: a new approach to the effects of ICTs, which is funded by the Norwegian Research Council.  Its core objective is to explore how we can “assess the complex and multifaceted impacts of ICTs on individuals’ welfare, and shape ICTs research and innovation activities towards responsible trajectories”.  One of its partners is NUPI, which has also published Maurseth’s (2017) useful overview on ICT, growth and happiness.

On the dehumanisation of labour

AI for Bad 2019

Most people still read this as “AI for Good”; image altered to make the point!

Until recently most digital technologies or ICTs have been largely seen as agents for good.  The ITU’s “AI for Goood”, or the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress with its 2018 slogan “Creating a Better Future” are but two graphic examples of this.  Underlying this positive image, though, have been the very significant advertising efforts of large global corporations eager to expand their markets by focusing exclusively on the positive benefits brought by ICTs; they truly make the world better, and people happy!   Moreover, this is all too frequently represented through the logic of increasing economic growth, and reducing absolute poverty.

Back in the 19th century Marx wrote passionately about the ways through which the rise of the factory system under capitalism dehumanized labour.  Very similar arguments have also been applied to the ways through which digital technologies are dehumanizing not only labour, but also many other aspects of human life as well in the 21st century (see my, 2016, Dehumanization: cyborgs and the Internet of Things, and more fully in Reclaiming ICT4D).  Almost by definition, dehumanization seems opposed to happiness.   Two simple digital examples can be used to illustratge this.  E-mails and online learning have dramatically extended the working day for office labourers who are now usually expected to be available online wherever they are for well beyond the traditional norm of 8 hours daily work – are they happyer as a result?  Likewise, 3D-printing is now replacing the happiness of human craftsmanship involved in creating fine objects.

Much more worrying, though, is the dark side of digital technologies, which is all too often hidden from the innocent eye.  To be sure, digital technologies do indeed have many positive benefits, but increasing research and attention are now at last shedding more light on their negative aspects.   UNICEF’s (2017) excellent report on Children in a Digital World, for example, provides a well balanced account of both the positive aspects of digital technologies and the harm that they can do.  Increasing evidence points to the link between smartphone use and depression amongst young people (see for example Twenge, 2017), addiction to digital technologies is becoming a growing concern (Brown, 2017) with clinics being set up across the world to treat it (see also Gregory, 2019), online gambling has been widely criticised for the harm it causes, and the role of social media in the rising tide of suicides is now being seen as an urgent prioirty that needs to be addressed by governments.  All these provide clear evidence that digital technologies do not always lead to the blissful happiness promoted in the advertising campaigns of digital corporations.

On method – historical and comparative

There is a clear need for much further research on the conditions under which digital technologies can indeed lead to greater human happiness, and those where they lead to a downard spiral of misery.  Methodologically, we need both historical and comparative studies to identify who is happier and why they are so when they use these technologies.  We need to understand more about the longitudinal experiences of those who were alive before computers and mobile phones became readly available and affordable.  We also need to understand much better what it is that enables some people to use digital technologies quite happily, whereas for others they can be the cause of misery so severe that people kill themselves.

The digitisation of human life

In conclusion, it is worth reflecting on what the future holds.  It has traditionally been thought that human happiness comes in part from the use of all of our senses of feeling, touching, seeing, hearing and smelling.  If this is so, happiness can be seen to derive in large part from fulfilment of this sentient being in the world.  Sitting for hours in front of a computer or other digital device has already been widely condemned for the negative health impacts that it causes: obesity, muscle degeneration, eye damage, back pain, and organ damage.  This is hardly happiness.  However, with the increasing commingling of human and machine, it may be that our cyborg future will no longer require traditional sentient experiences for us to be happy.  Our happiness may derive in the future from electrical impulses directed by neurally connected chips to stimulate feelings of happiness.  The rise of Transhumanism (H+), and the increasing numbers of people who are choosing to have microchips inserted in their bodies, is but one more step on this journey.

BirdI am privileged to have been born long before mobile phones existed, and vividly recall the first laptops, digital typewriters, and the pleasure of physically printing out cards to run my Fortran programmes.  I have also had the pleasure of recovering from broken bones, and the exhilarating happiness of playing the sports that caused them!  This has given me the sense that living life to the full as humans, being truly happy, does indeed require use to use all our senses.   We need wide public debate on the future relationships that we want to have with machines, a debate not driven by the economic interests of global capital, but one in which the joys of human sentient happiness can also be applauded and priortised.



Filed under Hacking, ICT4D, Inequality, social media

Sexual harassment though mobile devices in the Caribbean

St Lucia smallMy earlier research with colleagues in Islamabad indicated very high levels of sexual harassment in Pakistan using mobile phones, both in traditional ways for calls and texts, and also through access to online social media.  Evidence from other parts of the world also suggests that similar high levels are to be found in many countries with different cultural backgrounds and social structures,  However, there have been very few cross-cultural comparisons using the same methodology.  Together with Dr. Bushra Hassan from Pakistan, we are therefore using a similar online survey instrument to explore perceptions and experiences of the use of mobile devices in the Caribbean and in India (Hindi; English).

Digicel 3

Despite the support of more than 50 organisations and individuals across the Caribbean, for which many thanks are due, responses to the survey have been lower than we had hoped.  However, we are reporting our preliminary findings here in part to encourage further responses to the survey that will then enable us to undertake a more rigorous statistical analysis of the data.

Key findings include the following:

Perceptions of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the Caribbean

  • More than half of the sample think that all types of harassment are common in the Caribbean.  Sexual harassment, though, is the most common type of harassment, and 47% of the sample considered it to be very frequent
  • Women are perceived to be harassed much more than men, although men are also harassed; 46% of the sample considered that women were very frequently harassed through their mobile devices.
  • The most common reasons for sexual harassment are considered to be because social factors encourage it and it is a way of controlling someone
  • Messaging apps and social media are perceived as being the main ways through which people are sexually harassed through their mobile devices, although phone calls and text messages are also common.
  • A wide range of people are seen as  being responsible for sexual harassment, including strangers and people in positions of responsibility.  However, the most common perpetrators are perceived as being a former partner, someone known to the person other than a family member, and a current partner.
  •  In the Caribbean, when a man is sexually harassed 40% of the sample think a women is usually to blame, and 36% think a man is usually to blame.  When a woman is sexually harassed, 74% of respondents thought that a man was usually to blame and 36% thought another woman was usually to blame.  A major difference between Pakistan and the Caribbean is that when a woman was harassed through her mobile device in Pakistan, 54% of the sample thought that she was sometimes or always to blame, whereas only 29% of the Caribbean sample thought that the woman being harassed was to blame.
  • Another striking difference between Pakistan and the Caribbean was in the impact of such harassment.  In the Caribbean, 62% of the sample claimed to know someone who had suffered depression as a result of sexual harassment through a mobile device, but only 13% knew someone who had committed suicide, and only 2% someone who had been killed because of honour.  In Pakistan 53% of respondents claimed that they knew someone personally who had tried to commit suicide as a result of sexual harassment through their mobile devices, and a shocking 52% of respondents claimed to know someone who had been killed because of a loss of honour as a result of sexual harassment through mobile devices.

Experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the Caribbean

  • Around 44% of the Caribbean sample said that they had been sexually harassed through their mobile devices (and 92% of these were women), and their experiences were rather different from the perceptions of harassment noted above.
  • In reality only 27% of these people were harassed frequently or very frequently by a former partner, whereas 42% were frequently or very frequently harassed by someone known to them other than a family member, and 46% frequently or very frequently by a stranger.
  • It is also interesting that many people keep silent about their harassment; 43% sometimes or always keep silent.  When they do tell people about it, it is nearly always with friends rather than family or people in authority.
  • Interestingly, respondents who had been sexually harassed in the Caribbean seemed to have more robust reactions than did those in Pakistan, who often felt guilty or ashamed.  In the Caribbean, 67% said that they had never felt guilty, but 60% said that that sometimes or always felt stressed by it, 76% said that they sometimes or always felt angry, and 71% sometimes or always developed mistrust of others
  • There were fascinating and contrasting views about whether sexual harassment was worse when done in person or through a mobile device.  Two examples of comments from respondents reflect this difference:
    • “Being harassed through my mobile devices is worse in my experience because it has always been by people that I know. Harassment from a stranger has never hurt as much or made me as fearful as harassment from people that I know. The harassment that I have experienced via mobile devices has also been much more explicit and violent than what I have experienced in other ways”.
    • “I feel worse when the sexual harassment is done in person. Mobile I can hide and ignore, while in person I feel stripped and ashamed and uncomfortable and become self conscious”

Lime-2These are some of the headline findings of our research, but we need many more responses to be able to undertake appropriate statistical analysis of the results that will help us to dig beneath the surface and explain why some of these patterns exist.  The highest levels of responses have been from Guyana, the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, and so we would particularly encourage responses from other parts of the region.  We are also very aware that mobile devices are just one of the ways through which sexual harassment exists.  However, it is an additional and very prevalent means, and we need to be aware of the extent that it is used to cause misery and oppression.

If you have not already done so, please complete the survey at and encourage others to do so as well.  Thanks very much!

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Filed under Caribbean, ICT4D, Inequality, mobile phones, Sexual harassment, social media

The use of mobile devices for sexual harassment in Pakistan

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) continue dramatically to change our lives.  This is especially true with the rapid expansion of mobile devices connected to the broadband in many of the poorer countries of the world.  Whilst this can bring very many benefits, there is also a darker side to their use; ICTs tend to act as accelerators, both of good and of bad things.  With the  corporate ICT sector wishing to highlight the positive contribution that it can make to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the negative impacts of ICTs usually receive far less attention.  There is, though, now a growing body of evidence that in some contexts these may well outweigh their positive impacts.

In the course of qualitative research in 2016 with Dr. Bushra Hassan (formerly of the University of Sussex, and now at the International Islamic University in IslamIdentity construction 2 copyabad) on the use of mobiles by young people in Pakistan as symbols shaping their identity (published in Information Technologies and International Development earlier in 2017), we discovered a striking level of concern over the use of mobile devices for sexual harassment. The commentary below on Mobilink’s controversial advertisement at the time of our research, for example, highlights some of the tensions in what is widely seen as being a tightly constrained society with very traditional values.


We therefore decided to explore more about the use of mobiles for sexual harassment in Pakistan, and enlisted the help of Dr. Akber Gardezi (COMSATS Institute of Information Technology).  Together, we constructed and distributed a largely quantitative online survey in Pakistan in November and December 2016, and submitted a paper summarising the outcomes of this research early in 2017 to a special issue of ITID on Gender, Mobile and Mobile Internet.  At the time, we considered this to be one of the largest and most rigorous studies of the subject in Pakistan, and indeed few other studies have been as comprehensive anywhere in the world.  Subsequently, important new research has also been published about Pakistan especially by the Digital Rights Foundation.  The peer review process associated with academic journals meant that we could not release any of our results at that time.  We had hoped, though, that the full paper would have been published in time to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November.  Given delays in the production process, we are delighted now therefore to have received permission from the editorial team to release some of our most salient findings.

More than 2000 people opened the survey, and we had 530 completed responses from people from all walks of life in Pakistan.  The survey itself explored both perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through the use of mobile devices in Pakistan, and we were able to disaggregate and analyse the data in terms of a range of socio-cultural characteristics including age, gender, ethnicity, religion, occupation and place of residence.

Some of our most important findings are as follows:

  • Mobiles are mainly used to harass women sexually, although men are also harassed; 48% of women and 18% of men in our survey had been sexually harassed through their mobile devices.
  • Direct messages and phone calls are slightly more frequently used than online social media for sexual harassment: 17.5% of respondents who were harassed claim to be receiving daily text messages harassing them sexually, and 11.9% receive daily phone calls doing likewise.  It is therefore crucial to note that surveys that only focus on online harassment miss more than half of the ongoing sexual harassment that exists.
  • There is considerable uniformity in the perceptions about and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices among people from different socio-cultural backgrounds.  Only about 10% of the many statistical tests that we undertook showed significant differences, and where there were differences these were usually relating to the gender, occupation or location of the respondents.
  • One of the most striking findings from our research concerns blame attribution: 54% of all respondents thought the when a women is sexually harassed through her mobile device she is always or sometimes to blame.  Only 38% of respondents thought that a man was to blame when he is harassed sexually.
  • The impact of sexual harassment through mobile devices on people living in Pakistan has a terrible cost: 53% of respondents claimed that they knew someone personally who had tried to commit suicide as a result of sexual harassment through their mobile devices; and a shocking 52% of respondents claimed to know someone who had been killed because of a loss of honour as a result of sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Blackmail is widespread.
  • Four main reasons were cited to explain why mobile devices are specifically used for sexual harassment: it is easy to send multimedia content using mobiles; mobiles can be used to target people at a distance; it is quick to use mobiles to harass people; and the perpetrators can easily hide their identities.  Our paper goes into much more depth as to how social and cultural factors influence such harassment specifically in Pakistan; women much more than men consider that patriarchy is particularly important in causing such harassment.
  • The three most important ways through which such harassment can be reduced were considered to be: requiring social media companies to monitor and delete users who sexually harass others; increasing penalties for sexual harassment; and requiring mobile operators to provide a free reporting service.  With respect to the last of these, it was great to see the Digital Rights Foundation opening a toll-free hotline (0800-39393) in December 2016 for victims of online harassment and violence.

Almost half of all respondents also provided detailed qualitative responses to many of the issues we raised in the survey, and we are immensely grateful to all those who took the time to reply.  For the full paper, which provides very much more detail on all of the above, do keep an eye open for the next issue of ITID (Hassan, B., Unwin, T. and Gardezi, A. “Understanding the Darker Side of ICTs: Gender, Sexual Harassment, and Mobile Devices in Pakistan”, Information Technologies and International Development, in press).

We are now undertaking directly comparable online surveys in the Caribbean and in India to examine how perceptions and experiences of the use of mobiles for sexual harassment vary across the world.  Please share the links below with people you know in these regions to encourage them to contribute to the survey so that we can get as diverse and large samples as possible:

It is time that all of us combine our efforts to reduce sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Such harassment is a horrible form of violence and abuse, and it particularly affects women.  Men especially therefore need to take greater action to influence each other in changing their behaviours so that the full benefits of ICTs may indeed be experienced by women across the world.

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Filed under 'phones, Ethics, ICT4D, mobile phones, Pakistan, Sexual harassment, social media