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CAS researchers awarded new grant to study social media and security

Social Media and Security in Africa (SMS Africa) aims to provide a timely understanding of the role social media plays in documenting and driving (in)security in East and West Africa.

This is leading those charged with community safety to alter their ways of interacting with the public, posing new challenges concerning the rapid flow of (mis)information. At the same time it creates opportunities for security sector agencies to engage more directly with the public in providing security-related information, and potentially offers new prospects for an improved cooperative relationship in enhancing community safety. The project works towards the goal of reducing the insecurity that contributes to poverty. It corresponds to DFID-ESRC's interest in measures that can be taken to reduce the risks and impact of violence and instability that affect the poor.

SMS Africa is based at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, where the researchers are Dr Thomas Molony and Dr Maggie Dwyer. The project involves three Africa-based partners: the Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies, Kenya; the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; the Network Movement for Justice & Development, Sierra Leone. The project begins in July 2015 and will run for three years. Funding for the project comes from the ESRC-DFID joint fund for poverty alleviation research.

We will examine two variations of insecurity in Africa: sustained threats, and anticipated times of increased insecurity. Kenya will be the case for sustained insecurity due to recent terrorist attacks and a threat of future attacks. Sierra Leone and Tanzania will be cases in which there is an expected heightened risk of instability due to elections. Additionally, we will examine whether lessons learnt from Kenya's exceptionally high use of social media in a security context could be applied to other countries where social media use is in its infancy.

SMS Africa will provide evidence-based research on the role social media can play in shaping the relationship between technology, power and the dynamics of democracy. We will map how both those charged with community safety and non-state actors are using social media in a security context, and will develop an understanding of how their actions reflect on the nature of ICT and their ability to re-cast power relations and (in)security and democracy in fragile states. From this we will offer recommendations for best-practices on the use of social media in a security context.

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