Recently, NPR’s Story of the Day podcast (Empowered by Technology, Indians Fight Government Corruption) featured how SMS technology effectively gave middle class Indians the ability to launch large scale protests against a legal system that is notorious for protecting the interests of the elite class. Fashion model Jessica Lal was shot and killed at an exclusive nightclub/bar in Dehli nearly 7 years ago, allegedly by Manu Sharma, the son of a wealthy Indian politician. A month ago, Sharma was acquitted of all charges after evidence related to the case mysteriously disappeared. Witnesses became uncooperative. The acquittal came on the official basis of insufficient evidence. It is believed that bribery and corruption were key to the outcome of this case.

India’s middle class was largely angered by this latest demonstration of the Indian legal system’s incompetence. As a response to the verdict, Indian news broadcast station NDTV launched a “Justice for Jessica” protest campaign and asked their viewers (mostly composed of middle class citizens with cell phones) to text in their signatures for a petition to reopen the Jessica Lal murder case. According to NDTV broadcast journalist Barkha Dutt, the lines were open for only 3 days but the yielded over 200,000 messages in support of the campaign. All responses were registered as votes. An impromptu rally was also held in the capital after students text messaged each other of their plans and forwarded this new age call to action to their friends. Again, there was an unbelievable turnout. The NDTV petition was forward to India’s most influential political leaders and the case has since been re-opened, with support for Jessica coming from political elites such as Sonia Gandhi, as well as the prime minister and the president.

Recently, I attended an Internet Advocacy Center luncheon, where a young man from a non-profit group expressed his frustration at not being able to mobilize individuals that were on his email list to turn out for rallies or become more active with his group’s campaign. SMS-based tactics would be an appropriate remedy for those seeking to charge their campaign with supporter involvement. The US is just getting on board with using SMS technology for major campaigns, as cell phone users have largely ignored this service or just used it for personal message delivery. In Asia, SMS-based services like iMode began flourishing more than three years ago. Though the US market has gained quite a lot of momentum in this category, advocacy groups and non-profits are typically slow to catch onto integrating new media possibilities into their campaigns, unlike consumer marketers. Arguable, a coalition group/issue campaign use of text messaging/SMS as a call to action (e.g. RALLY AT DUPONT CIRCLE 2PM 4/3) is a far more interesting, engaging and relevant use of this technology and far better than letting consumer marketers update you on your cell phone about the launch of a new flavor of toothpaste.