By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) — Can communication tools stop a war?
That’s basically the idea one CNN commenter put forward on Monday. Responding to a story about citizen journalists in Syria, who risk their lives to upload videos and photos of gruesome massacres by the government, a commenter called goingmeta had this to say:
Rather than bombing by air or invading by land or even sending in international observers, we should airdrop about 20 million video cell phones. If there are excesses and abuses, nothing would turn the tide so quickly as giving each man, woman, and child in Syria the opportunity to record them and hold the authorities accountable for their actions.
This kind of thing isn’t completely without precedent. In Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, as The New York Times reports, an American named Ryan Boyette has been working to arm locals not with weapons but with tools that will help them make digital recordings when bombs fall on the caves in their territory. The Times’ Nicholas Kristof writes:
Ryan organized a network of 15 people to gather information and take photos and videos, documenting atrocities. He used a solar-powered laptop and a satellite phone to transmit them to the West, typically to the Enough Project, a Washington-based anti-genocide organization. He also supplied eyewitness interviews that helped the Enough Project and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative find evidence of atrocities, including eight mass graves, on satellite images. And he helped journalists understand what was going on.
The Enough Project’s Satellite Sentinel Project, referenced above, also aims to monitor tank movements on the ground in Sudan, hopefully to give warning before an attack on a particular region.
All of this is relatively small-scale stuff compared to the “20 million video cell phones” suggested by the commenter, but it’s still one unique example of many. There are efforts all over the world, including those from iReport, CNN’s user-submitted news site, to help people document their own lives and submit that news to global media organizations.
One commenter, however, sees limits in this appraoch. It’s not a shortage of technology that fuels war, the person writes:
Hold the authorities accountable? How cute. And what about when the authorities then massacre them and their families for daring to speak up? Cellphones and communication are all well and good, but unless they have a means to defend themselves then they’re as good as dead.
As this article shows, there is no shortage of cellphones or brave citizen journalists in Syria. Yet as long as we refuse to arm them or even acknowledge their right to fight back, then all they’ll ever do is record one grisly massacre after another.
What do you think? Are cell phones a valuable form of international conflict mitigation? Or is that view naive? Let us know in the comments section below. We may pull some of the most interesting thoughts into this post.